On Transit

The LYAC met on 12 May 2014 to discuss the current transit system in London, and to consider the Transportation Master Plan and its impact on current and future Londoners.

The LYAC met on 12 May 2014 to discuss the current transit system in London, and to consider the Transportation Master Plan and its impact on current and future Londoners.  The councillors began by identifying some common complaints about London’s transit services, focusing on the following:

  • Reliability: buses rarely run on time

  • Inconsistent service/routes: no coverage at certain times of day or certain days of the week

  • Bus service ends too early

  • Gaps/overlaps in bus service (e.g. 11 routes for Commissioners, but none go all the way; no direct route between places like Fanshawe and Western) make trips via public transit much longer and sometimes include long transfer times

  • Poorly designed for high demand times e.g. Oxford to Fanshawe

o   People get left behind because buses are too full

 

The Transportation Master Plan focuses on two options for moving the transit system forwards: Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Light Rail Transit (LRT) systems. It seems clear that London has outgrown its current transit system, but there is some debate over how to move forward to something that will be effective, sustainable, and able to grow with the city. Both BRT and LRT models have advantages and disadvantages. The former will cost significantly less than the latter, which makes it an attractive option to many.

 

LYAC councillors noted that insufficient population density is not the only obstacle to a more reliable and effective transit service.  In order for the LTC to run regular routes or to service new developments, it must be confident that people will actually ride the bus.  This lead to a discussion of why people choose (not) to take transit/why people choose to continue driving themselves when transit is available.  Part of the answer comes from the problems identified above (reliability, convenience, etc.), but a second part might come from cultural perceptions of what it means to take the bus and stereotypes about the people who use transit. Another suggestion was that the relatively low cost of parking in many parts of the city means that there is little incentive for people to choose public transit.

 

The council suggested that the following would be useful in moving the discussion about the future of transit in London forward:

 

  • Collect data: needs assessment, best practises evaluation, surveys, find out what incentives would work to get people riding the bus

  • Explore the gap between research and implementing best practises in order to better understand the obstacles to moving towards systems comparable to other cities, and how to maintain political accountability for acting on those best practises on a reasonable timeline.

  • Defining the role of citizens: Citizens have a part to play in changing the culture around transit, including challenging any stigma attached to taking the bus.  Citizens can also mobilize around the issue, working to hold politicians accountable.  One councillor suggested a kind of car share program, but for buses, involving private companies as a way to draw attention to the issue and put pressure on the city to act in a timely manner.

  • Importance of city planners: If an effective transit system requires a certain threshold of ridership, then future housing developments should be designed and located in such a way as to promote intensification. One problem that London faces is increasing urban sprawl.  This means that bus routes must service large areas in order to be cost effective.  However, increasing population density, particularly along key transit corridors, would mean increasing ridership and would create the opportunity for more efficient and cost effective transit. The future of London’s transit system, then, is very much dependent upon development planning in the city.

 

Finally, councillors discussed the kind of short term actions they would take to move the conversation forward, given the opportunity.  For example:

  • Media advocacy: raise awareness of the fact that the transit system needs to change, and encourage people to become more informed about the options presented in the Transportation Master Plan.

  • Events: One councillor suggested asking people why they drove rather than taking the bus and film it.  Another suggested getting a large group of people together to ride the bus, almost like a bus-riding flash mob.  This would draw attention to the issue of ridership while also challenging some of the cultural hesitation and/or stereotyping around taking public transit.

  • Establishing a special committee (whether municipal, separate from municipal government, or inter-municipal) to promote political accountability, adherence to best practises, and ensure public input into the process of designing a new system for London.

  • Promoting and supporting an infrastructure design challenge: this would generate a wide variety of ideas and offer the chance for citizens to contribute to the design of their new system.

At this meeting, the LYAC was able to identify some of the obstacles people face when choosing whether or not to use transit, focusing on the idea that increasing ridership in the city is key to promoting a new approach to the design of our city’s transit services.  This draws on the focus on intensification presented in the TMP and looks at the challenges to promoting the kind of intensification necessary for supporting either BRT or LRT systems. LYAC councillors will remain engaged with the issue, will revisit the topic in the future.

 

This Report was then circulated to the councillors to ensure their opinions were captured. Their additions are contained below:

Scot Wilkinson, Ward 8

  • We need to decide whether to go BRT or LRT and get moving on fixing the system.

  • Infrastructure needs to be built to nuture a growing population that is set to hit 550K in the next 50 years based on ReThink London figures.

  • Bus routes need to be more of a grid system rather than twisty routes which remain in neighborhoods. Presently there is no way of getting directly across Commissioners

  • Need to be more proactive rather than reactive meaning when growing the city, think of all of the necessary services those residents will need (buses, sewers etc.) This would have allowed for better bus routes and higher participation in public transit if there was high density areas built along bus routes.

  • The events discussion needs some revision.

    • The one idea was for a group of volunteers who are interested to be at parking lots downtown and to ask people what it would take for them to use public transit rather than drive downtown and park for the day. These answers would be very valuable and cost very little to obtain.

    • The second idea is taken from LondonX where May Nenshi of Calgary mentioned how transit commission staff rode the buses of Calgary and provided free transit in exchange for constructive criticism of the way things are. This could be done in London and be a very cost effective way of improving the transit system in the short term.