Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Today, as promised, I’m back to public transit as it ought to be at the top of our minds as we make our decisions on October 25th.

I was optimistic in the early months of the current 4-year term Burlington Council.
Back then Burlington Council had just created a Transit Advisory Committee that was going to provide input to Council and staff on initiatives and strategies affecting public transportation services.

At the time I noted that the “creation of this committee is one indication that municipal public transit and the environment is being taken more seriously these days.”

I was wrong.

Just a little over a year later along with fellow transit advocate Doug Brown I was back at City Hall. Ridership on Burlington Transit was up according to a staff report.

But this wasn’t stopping some members of Council from taking a knife to it.

“I won’t be swayed by a couple of good months,” noted one veteran Councillor who thought the City had to “look at a simplified system.”

Simplified? One can only imagine.

Empty Buses?

This idealized simplified system comes out of a simplified thinking that typically comes from people who have little direct exposure to transit and little appreciation of how important it is. Unfortunately, some of these simplified thinkers get elected.

It isn’t just here. If you follow local news in other communities you’ll see similar simplified thinking. Local politics is often captive of what I’ve labelled as RATS. Have you noticed those people who get hot and bothered about public transit vehicles; those who Rail Against Public Transit? They’re RATS. Get it?

Toronto Star’s Urban Affairs Reporter Carole Vyhnak reported a couple of years ago on Sandra Cassidy, an Ajax Ontario resident, who was railing against Durham Transit Route 222.

Like RATS everywhere Cassidy knows that:

*Buses are “mostly empty.”

*Buses roaring down her street are a “safety hazard.”

*Since “everyone in the area has at least two cars” we don’t really need public buses.

Ms. Cassidy was not successful in getting Route 222 pulled and I’m happy to report that the route has recently expanded.

More recently Mark Towhey, a policy advisor for Toronto mayoral Candidate Rob Ford, called for a stop to funding the TTC. He’d sell off its assets.

On his blog Towhey demonstrated a keen understanding of the issue:

“Well, life’s tough. Instead of being the only three people on a 60-passenger bus, perhaps these people will have to introduce themselves, get to know their neighbours and share a taxi.”

That same kind of thinking exists in Burlington where a Ward 5 Candidate did some fancy arithmetic and came up with the “fact” that the buses are empty 98.5% of the time. An incumbent used a similar figure earlier this year. They are just wrong, but like the little boy who yelled ‘fire’ in the theatre they get lots of attention.

I’ll be back with some more before Monday’s election.


Walter Mulkewich said...

If empty seats is an issue with the RATS or those who want a simplified system, should the large percentage of empty seats in the cars which are plugging our streets (simplifies) be an issue also?

bob wood said...

Well, of course, you're right Walter but that seems to get left out of the arguments.

We've got candidates now talking about making transit free for seniors.

Much as I want to see the system promoted I'm not sure that's the way to go.

You'll have thoughts on that.