TRANSIT: Without a commitment to Transit, and the will to fund it properly, little wonder transit in Burlington is where it is today.

opinionandcommentBy James Smith

March 10th, 2018



It’s very refreshing to see both a City Manager and a Transit Director with a commitment to Transit after decades of administrative incompetence and political dogmatic undermining of the file. While competent management is welcome it will take citizens committed to having new civic leadership with some vision and spine this fall to really improve transit.

Perhaps if folks decided it was time for most of the tired old fogeys on city council to retire; real change might come to transit in Burlington. Hope springs eternal for competent civic leadership, but history is a cruel master.

Bfast Transit group logo

Burlington’s Friend and Supporters of Transit has been a consistent and positive voice for better transit. They did more to make the issue public than the Transit service did.

The challenge for all cities right now on the transit file is confronting the big lie of “doing more with less” that has become gospel. Municipal councils will claim to keep their taxes to the rate of inflation. Sounds good, nobody wants to pay more taxes, but the largest single budget envelope under municipal control, police budgets, continue to expand. The obvious result is every other item faces a cut to service as other wages, fuel and capital costs continue to rise.

Without a commitment to Transit, and the will to fund it properly, little wonder transit in Burlington is where it is today. Burlington has dishonestly claimed for years that it has “kept taxes low”, while seeming true on the surface this is the result of Burlington getting a free ride from the Region’s budget take of massive, one time, development charges from the rest of Halton. These development charges continue to pay for services in Burlington keeping tax increases artificially low.

Cities such as Burlington could potentially be entering into a very dark period, not just for transit but for all city services. There is a very real chance the Conservatives may come to power at Queen’s Park. There’s no coincidence that a lost decade of transit in Ontario was the direct result of the hit transit took during the Harris/Eves administration. Provincially it has taken more than a decade to fix many files that were cut or ignored during that time, this is especially true in the case of transit. Part of the likely Conservative agenda is the big lie that “tax cuts will spark the economy”.

So read this as Conservatives cutting funding for many programmes, will transit escape the knife? Look at their leadership hopefuls and their track record.

Spicer + Ridge

City manager James Ridge with former Director of Transit Mike Spicer at an event organized by citizen transit advocates. Spicer resigned as Director not that long after this picture was taken.

In the past few years, Ontario has had a government that’s at least has claimed to have been committed to transit and has gotten the province back in the game. Given Burlington Transit has just managed to kept the lights on under this regime it begs the question: How bad will it get for transit with a Provincial administration that doesn’t have this commitment to Transit? How bad will it get for transit if we have a provincial government that denies the validity of climate change science?

How bad will it get for transit with provincial leadership hopefuls who think of transit as the enemy of drivers? Given the city of Burlington’s track record on transit, and the potential of a conservative provincial government, I suspect that the light seen from the new city manager and new transit management at the city of Burlington is that of an oncoming freight train; no passengers allowed.

jamessmith(James is an award winning Contract Designer, Past member of BFAST, Co-author of the 2014 Western GTA Move Taskforce Report, and Former President of Friends of Freeman Station. James Smith and his wife were 27 year residents of Burlington and now make their home in Guelph.) Smith ran in the 2014 municipal election against Paul Sharman

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2 comments to TRANSIT: Without a commitment to Transit, and the will to fund it properly, little wonder transit in Burlington is where it is today.

  • Tom Muir


    You are wrong on your development charges statements.

    DCs are calculated, and watched very closely by developers, to pay the costs of needed services due to growth. There are no extra charges, and in fact, the DCs levied don’t pay the full costs of growth.

    Further, there was a day when discounts of 50 percent were given to the non-residential sector. And the Region still front-ends the total service needs for water and sewer for the non-residential share, while the residential is supposed to pay forward at sub-division agreement.

    A very large cost for Regional roads needed for growth is also front-ended by the Region.

    These large capital costs, front-ended by the Region, are slowly recovered from DCs as development proceeds, but water and sewer are needed right away, and so are overbuilt at the beginning of a planning period.

    As a result, the Region carries what is called a “stranded debt” component of outstanding capital costs not yet recovered from development. This may be $200 to $300 million, as I recall from 5 years ago.

    There are other provincially mandated 10% discounts made to other services needed by growth.

    Finally, given the way that development charges are allocated across the developments in each municipality, Burlington has paid more than a share based on average needs for services across the Region.

    There is no free ride from DCs, as you claim. DCs are more than completely consumed by the needs for services of the growth.

    This is the reason that Gary Carr, Regional Chair, is threatening a growth freeze unless the Province changes the rules that are shifting the costs of growth to Regional and Local Municipalities.

    It was under his leadership that the recovery of the costs of growth at the Regional level approached full recovery as close as possible. The large discounts of 50% are in the past.

    I was on the Region DC Committee for 4 terms, and am still on the Burlington DC Committee.

    That said, I agree very much with the central point of your article about transit and the city budget inflation under the present and longstanding Council.

    Burlington hides, or rather tries to hide its recent annual inflation of 4% to 5% in the zero or near zero increase at the Region and Education share.

    This kind of inflation is projected to increase for the foreseeable future.

    Any concerns I have made about this have been futile, as Councilor Sharman just explains it all away. They are looking at it he said.

    Where the money for transit is going to come from is a good question, but looks like more tax inflation. More costs of growth in people and cars, but nothing for roads.

    The proposed OP debacle will just add to this.

    It’s easy to see coming on the road ahead – as you put it, “an oncoming freight train; no passengers allowed”

  • Joan Gallagher Bell

    In speaking with neighbours and friends the comment is that expressing Transit needs to Burlington City Hall they did not have “listening ears on”.
    Perhaps We should regroup then address Transit. God Bless Doug Brown and members of Bfast for dedication plus determination to increase Transit rides and ridership not cost for residents. I will wait.

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