Would transit picking you up at the door and getting you to GO on time be enough to get you out of your car?

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

July 31st, 2015

BURLINGTON, ON

Once we have a well-deserved summer, if albeit a hot one at times, behind us and the kids are back in school – hopefully there won’t be a teachers strike, the city will settle down to the business of becoming what it wants to become.

The agenda for the fall is pretty thick.

In the months ahead the public is going to read about “complete streets”; different “modes” of transportation and transit. Lots about transit and behavioural change.

The city has to get you out of your car. The city has to add thousands of people to its current population which means intensification.

More people, more residential development – and traditionally more cars. But more cars on the streets means more congestion and Burlington doesn’t have much in the way of tolerance for traffic congestion.

City council is going to have to buckle down and bite the transit bullet and slowly lead the public to using transit.

It is not going to be easy.

The current city council isn’t all that good on leading when it comes to hard issues. During the briefing council was given recently on the draft Transportation Master Plan there wasn’t much in the way of comment from Council members.

To his credit ward 1 Councillor Rick Craven lectured that a change is necessary even if the public doesn’t like the idea.

What are the options? How do we get people out of their cars?

GO parking wide view

Some of these cars sit in this parking lost most of the day – they are used to get a driver to the GO station in the morning and back home at night. Reliable transit would work better for everyone.

A look at the GO station parking lots offers a major opportunity. Why do people drive their car to the GO station and leave it sitting there most of the day?
Because for the bulk of these people transit is not a viable option – bus service has to be convenient if you want people to use it. And there is nothing convenient about the bus service and GO Stations.

A colleague who works at scheduling the delivery of products to retail locations explained to me that there is software out there being used by tens of thousands of organizations every day.

They know what the traffic patterns are and they know when their clients are open – they take all that data and work out a route for every truck they have on the road. If there is a disruption in traffic flow the software will tell them and the truck drivers are alerted.

So why couldn’t the transit people hire a couple of students to spend part of a day going through the GO station parking lots and noting the license numbers on the cars.

The city would then ask the Ministry of Transportation for the address of the owners of the cars and then send each of the car owners a letter asking them if they would use a service that drove by their house, picked them up and dropped them off at the GO station in time to catch the train they wanted to use.

This kind of thing is not rocket science – it is done all the time by the companies that delivery potato chips and soft drinks to convenience stores. They do it because they are motivated to do it – their profits and their jobs depend on their ensuring that products are on the shelves.

The city could easily instruct Burlington Transit to do a pilot study in one part of the city – The Orchard would a very good place to do a pilot.

GO parking with BURL sign

A combination of reliable transit service and parking fees to leave a car at the GO station might be the only way the city can bring about a behaviour change when it comes to how we use cars.

The city would use smaller buses that would take whatever route was needed to pick up people in front of their house. When the bus was full or it was time to head for the GO station to catch the GO train the bus would end the trip.

How would people get the bus? They would use an app on their cell phone that would call up a screen. Their address would have already been entered into the app as well as the GO station they traditionally use.

The user would click on one of the icons on the screen and request the service would go to the transit company and back would come a message saying what time the bus would bet at the door.

Easy ? probably I’m prepared to bet that the province would put up a large chunk of the cash to pay for the development of such an application – they have to get people out of their cars and transit is the best option.

I can’t see the “suits” driving their bikes to the GO station.

To make using transit more compelling – parking fees at the GO stations could be imposed.

Drastic – probably, but it is clear to the transportation experts and the planners that Burlington has to find a way to cut down the traffic.

If residents found that the service was priced decently and proved to be reliable they will use it – better to have a bus pick you up and get you to the GO station on time without you having to battle traffic congestion.

There is going to be a change in traffic – how the city goes about making it happen is something you want to make sure your opinion is voiced.

Related articles:

A transportation master plan

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8 comments to Would transit picking you up at the door and getting you to GO on time be enough to get you out of your car?

  • Marie

    “[B]us service has to be convenient if you want people to use it.” Hear hear! Burlington bus service DOES need to be upgraded.

    Surely there’s some happy medium between personalized bus service to my front door and what we’ve got now.

  • Brian Rose

    Sounds like a great idea – Is it even remotely doable? The issue is people don’t leave and come home at a set time each day – 100-300 people get off at the station every 15 minutes between 5 & 7pm. How many mini buses will you need to accommodate these people. If a shuttle service from the GO is dropping off 10 people at there homes it could take 30- 40 minutes to get home from the GO if your last to be dropped off. Also people don’t just go straight home from the GO they stop at the supermarket, go to the Gym etc. People who take the GO are the leading users of public transit in Burlington if their cars are parked at the GO station all day that’s way better than blocking off the QEW. I take the GO everyday and the biggest problem is parking enforcement at the GO station – people leave cars for a week sometimes. I live 2 KM south of Burlington GO but I drive to Appleby because there’s zero parking in the South side of Bulingtin station after 6:45am and it’s quicker to GO to Appleby than drive around to the North Parking lot – plus Appleby’s 6 Minutes closer to Toronto. How about legalizing Golf carts in Burlington to get back and forth from the GO train — I’d do that in a second!

  • “Councillor Rick Craven lectured that a change is necessary even if the public doesn’t like the idea.”

    The city embarking on changing the fundamental nature of people is just folly. It’s not a plan – it’s a utopian delusion. Once you create a living environment that no one likes – people with the financial ability will just move – leaving you with less resources and a death spiral for your city.

  • Chris Ariens

    “I can’t see the “suits” driving their bikes to the GO station.” – Curious as to why not? I see many suits here in Downtown Toronto riding on bicycles every day.

    It’s easy distance for someone biking at a leisurely pace from anywhere in the built-up part of Burlington to get to a GO station. You don’t have to ride fast – there is no need for someone riding a bike to get any sweatier than they would walking in the parking lot from their car to the train platform.

    As a daily Downtown Toronto commuter living in the Orchard (although I don’t often go full suit), I find it ultra-convenient – much more so than the bus – to take my bike to the GO. And I get some exercise that otherwise I would have had to take more time out of my day for.

    The bus is great to have as a third option. Maybe if I didn’t have to walk 10 minutes to get to it, I would take it on the days the weather is too harsh to bike instead of dragging my wife & kids up to take me in the car. Multi-modal transportation is where it’s at. To me it’s a massive waste to invest so much money in a car to have it just sitting there baking in the parking lot for 11 hours a day.

    I think what’s preventing many people from taking advantage of cycling as an option is that they are scared to death to travel on or across our busy arterials that were built without consideration for bicycles or pedestrians.

    There’s got to be a reason that 50% (!!!) of all train users in Holland take a bicycle to get there, and it’s not that the Dutch are a different species from us. Some of them even wear suits also. Why don’t we try and learn something from them?

    • Tom Muir

      Holland is the most densely populated country in the world (477/km2)

      In Amsterdam, as an example, it is 10 times as dense, at 4,908/km2 with 2,275 houses/km2.

      In the main city area, there are often three distinct lanes – one for cars, one for bikes, and along the transit routes, another for trolleys/buses, which are often electrified.

      Walkers really have to be careful with this situation, all modes in action especially.

      This is in addition to pedestrian sidewalks or walkways that are often narrow, and shared with parking.

      I don’t think it plausible to make Burlington anywhere remotely near this kind of density, or people movement mode configuration, EVER.

      I also think that arguing that people have to change no matter what and whether they want to or not, is just a longstanding excuse for the devoted support for intensification that continues blindly – also NO MATTER WHAT.

      This is the kind of Utopian delusion mentioned here by Greg W.

      I say, get the people movement problem solved or solutions in place, before the wholesale development approvals are made. Get the developers involved.

      We have been spending many billions on transportation only to knowingly make things worse. Roads only cost, no return in revenue. Transit pays about 50% at the fare cards (used to be a fare box).

      Can our fearless leaders do the math? I doubt it.

      • Chris Ariens

        Tom…our city isn’t that special or different. Yes, our density is only 946/km2. Very similar to Apeldoorn (our twin city). We have a highly populated urban area and a lightly populated rural area which each make up about half, so the current density of the urban part of Burlington is a little more dense than Zwolle and s-Hertogenbosch, and a little less dense than Nijmegen to look at comparably sized cities.

        Maybe the Dutch have had a 50 year head start on us, but to say that we can’t do anything remotely near what they’ve done is really selling us short.

        There are a lot of people who already want to walk & cycle more, but feel they can’t because they don’t feel safe on our roads. The only behavior change needed from them is one that they eagerly choose to make. Start with the low hanging fruit (i.e. trips to & from school, GO stations) and eventually the choice of riding a bike to other destinations such as workplaces and shops becomes even more appealing.

        Yes, it may take some getting used to. There are no perfect solutions to our predicament, but when someone proposes something that has been tried elsewhere (both in Europe and recently across North America) and succeeded, dismissing the idea as a “Utopian delusion” just sounds like someone with a political axe to grind. The consequences of everyone believing that they have no other option but to drive in their own individual cars at the exact same time as everyone else takes some getting used to as well.

        Continuing to spend $billions to try to accommodate that is an investment that has had poor returns and resulted in more entitlement and a massive infrastructure deficit (which is a major reason for why this intensification is being put forward in the first place).

        • Tom Muir

          Chris, I didn’t say that our city was that special or different, but for sure Burlington is very different in the housing and people movement structure than any Dutch city I have ever been to, which is several, not just Amsterdam.

          Dutch cities are also integrated with the extensive public transportation system, and share the common culture of biking and walking.

          You didn’t tell us anything in your comparison with Dutch cities except comparable density. You omitted the most important factor of context. You left out the practical realities.

          What has happened in Holland cannot be separated from their history, small size, economy, social mores and culture, politics, and how their settlement and transportation patterns were formed and developed from the beginning.

          It has always been different than the car-centric focus we have always had, and the overall social contexts that drove what materialized in each place.

          I started riding a bike to work in 1983, and did so for more than 20 years. I would ride every day right until the snow flew, rain or shine. The rest of the year I took the Aldershot bus to the hospital and walked from there to CCIW, but the city cancelled that route and so I would walk the entire distance.

          Of the 400 or so who worked at CCIW, only a handful or two rode bikes, as measured by the number in the racks and experience. I heard every excuse in the book – too cold, too hot, too wet, too far, too sweaty, too dangerous, can’t shop with a bike, and so on. Oh, and don’t forget that we have a real winter here.

          Walking was even lower in sight, as I only know of one other person that walked, and that was Jack Vallentyne (Johnny Biosphere) when he lived in Burlington.

          The other people, like most, were addicted to the convenience and comfort of the car. No sweat there. It’s still the same as far as I know, but with the added convenience of phones.

          So I know very well, first hand, about what walking and biking can do, and the inertia of most people that live here. It’s this experience, on top of the way we are car dependent by urban design that continues, exacerbated by people “intensification” that still increases net car density as well, that underlies my statement that we cannot come near, quantitatively, what they already do and have for a long time in Holland.

          As far as your view that I have a political axe to grind, I say that this whole debate about how we choose to live is inherently political, and you too have your own axe and grinder. We all do.

          The funny part is that I too want to see similar changes as you do in how we live, and have for a long time been trying to push this politically, and actively, since the 1990’s. I live the way I preach. I’ve seen that nothing has really changed.

          So my dismissal of the chances of what you suggest, as Utopian delusion, is not without basis in fact.

          On reflection, perhaps I should have characterized my view of this as Panglossian, from the character Dr. Pangloss in Candide’s Voltaire. That is, the idea that we can replicate Holland’s practices under our current planning, development, and political situation, and experience to date, is baseless optimism of the sort of Dr. Pangloss.

          Left to behavioural changes expected to cope with the growth and intensification policies, I argue that all will not be for the best in the best of all possible worlds. It hasn’t been to date, so besides wishful prognostication about what might be theoretically possible, why would you insist that people themselves will actually make the sufficient changes? Unless we storm city hall with needed reform demands, I see no chance.

          My view has for a long time been that I am naively optimistic about what we are capable of doing if we get everything lined up, with political will, but based on my experienced reality, and the present direction, and politics, I am realistically pessimistic about what will actually be done.

          It is observable that intensified development will be done, according to efficiency plans to reduce road costs, but everyone else is on their own to get anywhere.

          I agree that everyone thinking they can only drive their cars at the same time as everyone else is hard to get used to, but that’s what kind of reality we have created in large part.

          You seem clever, but clever people can deceive themselves, so beware of hubris. Me too.

  • What is the purpose of the webcam-looking devices the City has been gradually installing on top of the traffic lights throughout the City?

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