Burlington for Accessible Sustainable Transit
Burlington for Accessible Sustainable Transit

2024 Transit Users’ Forum: Speak Up for Better Transit!

Transit Forum rides wave of new riders to push governments for more support

Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward opens the 2024 Transit Users’ Forum

Transit, and senior governments must step up to support local transit systems. Those were two dominant themes of this year’s Transit Users’ Forum, held Saturday May 4. Nearly 100 transit riders, City staff and politicians attended the forum, organized by Burlington for Accessible Sustainable Transit (BFAST), at the Central Branch of the Burlington Public Library.

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward highlighted City Council’s role in supporting the service expansion that has propelled transit ridership to record levels and committed to continue with transit improvements.

“We have invested heavily in transit, but we’re also trying to remove financial barriers,“ she said. “We’re looking at the feasibility of adding some additional free transit.” And the City will continue to make improvements in its specialized service (Handivan) to handle booming ridership.

“We’ve already starting to talk about the 2025 Budget and we’re looking at more investments in transit yet again.”

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Transit Director excited by record ridership

Burlington Transit Director Catherine Baldelli reports record ridership to the BFAST Transit Users’ Forum Sat. May 4. (Photo: Kade McGregor)

Burlington Transit (BT) had a record year in 2023, with some 2.97 million rides, according to BT Director Catherine Baldelli. “People are embracing transit,” she said. “That’s really exciting.”

The affordability of transit was emphasized by Baldelli and most of the speakers at the forum. But growth in demand and worsening traffic conditions are putting the service under pressure.

Long travel times and limited schedules are often due to a shortage of buses and the people who operate and maintain them, Baldelli and transit staff said in response to stories of people forced to spend as many as four hours a day on their work commute.

Heavy traffic, including spillover from the highway, is also slowing down buses, she said. Over the next year, Burlington Transit will work with the City’s Transportation department to implement transit signal priority, which gives a bus priority through an intersection if it is running late.

Heavy traffic also causes bus bunching, where two buses might appear at once after passengers have waited for some time, she explained to a number of users who reported overcrowding on the Fairview-Hamilton Route 1. Bunching happens when one bus is delayed so much that other buses catch up to it. Transit staff monitor the system and make adjustments to keep things moving, she said.

Support for transit funding strong, David Suzuki Foundation finds

Gideon Forman of the David Suzuki Foundation pointed out that about four in five Ontarians agree provincial and federal governments should spend more on transit.

The solution to many user problems could lie with more provincial and federal support for transit, speakers from BFAST and other organizations said. And public opinion seems to be on their side.

Panelist Gideon Forman, policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation, said there was “strong majority support” for more investment in public transit, according to a poll conducted last year by Ekos research. The poll showed nearly 80% of Ontarians wanted provincial and federal governments to invest more in transit. “What’s really exciting here is that it’s that a whole range of demographics” who support transit investment, from youth to seniors, he said.

Support, at 90%, was strongest in Toronto. But it was almost as strong in the 905 region.

“Almost four out of five folks in the 905 region support more money for public transit,” Forman said. “Obviously, lots of folks have to drive in this part of the province. They still support more money for public transit because they see the value in public transit even if they’re not using it themselves.”

“Very serious decisions” coming for Halton Roads: Councillor

Ward 3 Councillor Rory Nisan told attendees at the BFAST Transit Users’ Forum that transit would be essential in keeping traffic under control in coming years. (Photo: Kade McGregor)

A a cultural shift is making transit more attractive to youth and families, Ward 3 Councillor Rory Nisan said. He said friends were beginning to see the benefits of transit and he believes the shift will continue.

He projected traffic levels 25 years down the road, when Burlington would have as many as 100,000 new residents. He said Halton Region’s master transportation plan was in process and would deal with regional roads.

“We need to make some very serious decisions about the future of the roads,” he said. “Like it or not, it’s going to be busier on the roads. And the question is, ‘What are we going to do about it?’” A growing economy means more pressure on roads and “you can’t build your way out of that,” since road expansion only increases car use,

“So what’s the answer? The answer is more people walking, biking and taking public transit, and making it easier for people to take public transit. So that’s what we’re building today, so that we’re ready for … 25 years down the road.”

Keep the pressure on, Hamilton activist tells Forum

Environment Hamilton’s Ian Borsuk said transit activists in that city envied the progress that has been made in Burlington over the past five years. (Photo: Zara Paris)

A prominent Hamilton environmental and transit activist says it’s “absolutely vital” to keep up the pressure for better transit and that Burlingon and Hamilton transit users keep in touch.

“In a lot of ways, for the last few years, we in Hamilton have been looking at what’s going on in Burlington with envy,” said Ian Borsuk, Executive Director of Environment Hamilton. But he said transit users had to keep the pressure on local councils to act on their issues. He cited a widespread service disruption in Hamilton that eventually led to the formation of the Hamilton Riders Union.

‘We continued putting ongoing pressure on city councillors and it became, politically, absolutely necessary, especially in areas where there isn’t currently bus service, to keep onside with increasing bus service in the city of Hamilton.

“What’s best for Burlington, what’s best for Hamilton and all our various communities is that the communities determine what’s best for themselves. We know what type of service we need to see in our local communities. And it’s absolutely vital that we continue to work together and learn from each other.”

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BFAST Chair “very encouraged” by forum result

BFAST Chair Doug Brown, seen here with Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward, said the success of this year’s forum would help transit activists all year.

BFAST Chair Doug Brown says the success of this year’s Transit Users’ Forum will encourage organizers to redouble their efforts for better transit.

“We are very encouraged by the response to this year’s Transit Users’ Forum and we thank everyone who attended and helped with organizing this event,” said Brown.

“We’re seeing a real change in attitudes towards transit as congestion and affordability take a bite out of our over-dependence on cars,” said Brown. “We hope this forum further demonstrates to our elected representatives that despite the progress we’ve made over the past five years, there is still a lot to be done.

“Transit is one of the best tools in our kit to reduce pollution, end gridlock, make our streets safer and improve the quality of our urban life,” said Brown. “We will continue to work with transit supporters, Burlington Transit and our municipal government to make better transit a reality in our community.”