not in service

I wrote this post last month about why I believe that the public library is a core pillar to the vitality of any community, and why London Public Library should be granted the increase it needs during the London budget deliberations to maintain their excellent level of service.

The library is one of several pillars we depend on for a truly vibrant, livable and desirable city, and it ties in with others including education. We also need to be able to easily move throughout our community, and the experience should be as safe, comfortable and pleasant as possible. Placemaking, urban design, land planning, and an integrated transit system including public transit are key components. It is about this last area that I want to cover in this post, even as it is under consideration for (further) underinvestment/cuts from our city.

I came to London in 2004 to study at Fanshawe, and graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Integrated Land Planning Technology. As a student and new resident of the city, I accepted the public transit pass I was given with my tuition gladly, and used it to explore all over our city. Many trips were crowded, noisy, smelly, hot/cold and uncomfortable, but they got me where I needed to go.

But as I continued to travel year after year, I was turned away at the door more often as the bus was packed to capacity, and more often the bus never came at all. But the real awakening happened for me when I spent a summer co-op working in Hamilton/Burlington at the Royal Botanical Gardens, living in Hamilton. The bus wait times were extremely short, there was BRT to the McMaster area where I lived, the stops already had unique numbers posted so you could call to check schedules, even the high traffic commuter routes weren’t overcrowded, and the service was always excellent. If the driver saw you running, they would stop and wait. That’s right. Stop. And. Wait. For. You. It was tough to say goodbye to the HSR and return to the LTC at the end of the summer.

I am amazed that as the city talks about economic development, being an enterprising and forward-thinking community grasping for the future, we slip backwards in so many ways against our surrounding neighbours, and competitors. Groups like Emerging Leaders work tirelessly to work with the city to encourage and keep young talented minds in our city, and advocate for services students and new graduates depend on, including an efficient, effective and affordable public transit system. But despite this, I have watched the LTC slip further and further behind as it is underappreciated and underfunded by City Council, under both mayors AMDB and Fontana.

In my undergrad thesis project “Estimating Population…”, I examined through GIS technology how we currently examine population, and how estimates may be performed to create a more accurate understanding of our populations, our people, who they are. But the crux of my research was to examine not just where they are but how they move, how they get to where they desire to go, and how easily this is done. A multitude of different movement systems, including affordable, dependable and efficient public transit, are necessary to create a community where people of all walks of life have an equal opportunity.

This is the bare minimum. Layered on top of these considerations by urban designers is the much more intangible experience, examining what one experiences as they move through their environment, and how this can be heightened for the betterment of the entire community.

As I said, we rely on public transportation as well as the sidewalks, bike paths and nature trails of the city to get to everywhere we need and want to go. We depend on London’s public transportation system, yet have watched the service quality and quantity deteriorate instead of improve since I moved here in 2004.

I’m frustrated as I hear many say they would like to use the transit service, only it is always too crowded, and that the wait times are far too long (completely legitimate concerns), then as members of council criticize the low level of service, imply that the LTC is squandering what little money they do receive, and say that, somehow, it will get better subsisting on less, they’re not being “creative” enough. The LTC’s main webpage now displays a breakdown of their expenses, and what will have to be cut to reach a budget increase target of 0%, including a staggering cut to ridership (351,400 on conventional and 17,000 on specialized).

I’ve also been dismayed to see and hear many refuse to use the transit service, with a great deal of words like “I’m not a bus person”, “I don’t want to share a bus with them“, etc. What dismays me about this kind of language is this othering, placing space between who we are and who “they” are, both implying a betterment of one over another, as well as the assumption public transit is only for those that can’t afford to have their own vehicle, instead of a legitimate transit option for everyone. I often say “But I’m a bus person”, which is sometimes met with bafflement, or, “No you’re not…you know what I mean”.

The thing is, I wish we were all “bus people”. Our transit system is part of the lifeblood of our city, and it deserves investment from us, but it also needs to be recognized by City Hall as a necessity. That’s why I’m so glad to see the new advocacy group LTC bus people (covered recently in this Londoner article, found on Facebook and on Twitter @LTCBusPeople). Amanda Stratton (@‏AmandaStratton), who started the group, has this to say: “Everybody recognizes the importance of (public transit) and building a city around it except the people who are setting the policies”.

Shobhita Sharma (@LondonerShobh), who wrote the Londoner article, made this observation:

The LTC Bus People collective has come up during an interesting time in the city’s history as councillors battle to maintain Mayor Joe Fontana’s promise of a zero per cent tax increase in property taxes for a third straight year. The flip side to the tax freeze? Despite how politicians like to word it, services, including those provided by the LTC, could receive a severe blow resulting in restricted service on some routes and complete elimination of certain others.

Public transit is vital to our city. Quality of public transportation is even one of the factors used to measure the world’s most livable cities. In the preliminary budget talks, service cuts that were on the table were voted down, but councillors did vote to eliminate the $500,000 transit replacement request the service made, despite warnings that failing to maintain the fleet only kicked problems further down the road.

The LTC is a vital service, and only one of many being voted on during the budget process. This week on Wednesday Feb 13 is the second public participation meeting, and the final deliberations are Feb 28. These are the biggest decisions Council will make all year, choosing how our municipal taxes are spent. Make sure to speak out, participate, and have your say!

Next post: Public transit, active transit