Burlington for Accessible Sustainable Transit
Burlington for Accessible Sustainable Transit

A Conversation with Catherine Baldelli, new Director of Burlington Transit

Catherine Baldelli

Burlington Transit’s new manager, Catherine Baldelli. Photo: City of Burlington

by Lawson Hunter

Catherine Baldelli joined the City of Burlington in 2018 as a Business Relationship Manager in the ITS Department where she served as the IT strategic partner to both the Transit and Roads, Parks and Forestry Departments. Her work with Transit lead to her role as Manager of Transit Planning and Business Services for Burlington Transit where she helped guide the City’s transit system into more of a ‘grid’ system to improve connectivity and route frequency.

Baldelli has a Bachelor of Environmental Studies degree from the University of Waterloo, a Diploma of Municipal Management from AMCTO, plus various training programs specific to Fixed Route Transit Planning and Business Relationship Management. She is a member of the Ontario Public Transit Association (OPTA) and the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) and was a former Director for the MISA Ontario (Municipal Information Systems Association) and the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association – Ontario Chapter (URISA).

The issue of adequate funding for transit is top of mind for Baldelli. She credits both provincial and federal governments for supporting transit systems during the initial stages of the COVID pandemic, but more still needs to be done if Burlington is to achieve its goal of increasing transit ridership (and reducing the number of trips done in cars). “If there’s one thing the pandemic showed us, it is how essential it is for people to get to their jobs, safely, and easily,” says Baldelli.

In 2019 Burlington Transit saw an increase in ridership of 14% over previous years but the pandemic stopped that dramatically. Even though ridership has increased since then, it is still only at 87% of 2019 levels. One of Baldelli’s objectives is to increase frequency times.

Thanks to COVID restrictions, the purchase of new buses in the Burlington Transit’s five-year plan had to be paused last year.

Electrification of the entire system is, Baldelli admitted, a complex issue requiring a large infrastructure change. “Climate change is very important to Burlington, but you can’t just plug in a bus and have it running,” Baldelli stated. “You have to change the garage structure, train the drivers, and for long routes like Route 1 that runs from Hamilton to Appleby GO, you might need to install on-street charging throughout the day.”

One thing that Baldelli is monitoring is the ‘on-demand’ systems that other cities have implemented. On-demand, for example, might be workers finishing their shift in an under-served industrial area, or after the last bus runs at night. Using an app on their cell phone, the rider would request a bus, listing their current location and destination. The system would look for others doing the same and map out a smaller bus route to pick up several of these requests. Passengers might wait 10 to 20 minutes to be picked up. Baldelli notes that if enough requests come in on a regular basis, Burlington Transit may consider installing a more permanent service in that area. “Hamilton’s HSR has its Waterdown route on-demand,” observes Baldelli. “We’re looking at how others are implementing on-demand and doing our own research.”

Baldelli also stressed improved community engagement – by email, phone, a note to the staff at the John Street terminal, or by visiting the BT website www.burlington.ca/transit.

BFAST welcomes Catherine to her new position and wishes her success as we all move forward (pun intended).

Catherine Baldelli was interviewed by BFAST Steering Committee member Lawson Hunter for his online radio show Burlington Now. You can hear the entire interview on the station’s website at https://www.bnowradio.ca/bn66.mp3.

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