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Fix this!

The Transit general manager is leaving town, and this week's Market Squared is just fed up with a system that can change everything and affect nothing
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exasperation desk stock

There’s a recurring gag in the Harry Potter books about the Defense Against the Dark Arts teaching position, and how no teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry makes it more than a year in the job.

You know where this is going.

On Monday, it was announced by the City of Guelph that Mike Spicer, general manager of Guelph Transit, was leaving his position for a new post in Halifax not even 14 months after his hire was announced.

When the new manager is hired to succeed Spicer, this will be the fourth person to sit in the chair in less than 10 years. On the bright side, Guelph gets more mileage out of transit managers than Hogwarts does out there Dark Arts teachers but still…

Once again, there’s reason to be concerned about the way this City is managing its public transit system. Presently, there’s a service review of the system that’s meant to be done, and hiccups remain from the adjustment to the wide-spread realignment that took place not even five months ago. The latter was suppose to inform the former, and now the man marshalling those efforts is on his way out of town.

It’s easy for transit supporters and users to feel like this is an instance where the captain of the Titanic saw the iceberg coming and got the heck off the ship fell before it hit. That’s melodramatic and over the top, sure, but again, Spicer was the third transit manager since 2009 and the guy before that was fired.

It’s no wonder then that people are reaching for radical solutions: throw more money at transit, merge with Grand River Transit, etc. Mayor Cam Guthrie asked everyone to chillax on Twitter, and he’s right. We need a cool, calm-headed consideration of the situation. The problem, of course, is that Guelph Transit users, myself included, hardly have any taste for going back to the drawing board.

In other words: fix this!

Fix this because it looked like we were making some progress on the transit file. I believe that Spicer brought genuine passion and excitement for transit to the job, and I think he did have a desire to make things better.

Fix this because it seemed like for the first time in a while that council understood the negative effect of cutting transit services. They were listening. And while there wasn’t any more money for the service, at least no one talked about cutting service or raising fares in the budget process for the first time in what seems like forever.

Fix this because traffic is terrible, but even taking account for that, trips that take 10 minutes in the car can take 45 minutes to an hour on the bus. No one with option in the matter is going to increase their commute by a factor of four if they can help it.

I know what the city and those that run it are going to say: we’re waiting for the service review. We need a business plan. We need a new manager.

Why don’t we start with something simple, like, making sure a bus gets to where its supposed to be, on time, every time?

Now you may think that this was a problem created, in part, by Spicer and the realignment he pushed, but years ago, when I would record a weekly radio show at CFRU early on Sunday morning, I would leave my home to get the 9:15 am bus from downtown, and at least once a quarter, it would not come.

After several years of not having to leave the house so early on a Sunday morning, a matter of work required me to get that 9:15 am bus again one Sunday morning in the summer of 2016. Given that this was work and not play, it was in the back of my head those previous disappointing Sundays, and thought to myself, “What are the odds?”

It turns out that the odds were pretty good.

The odds were also surprisingly good last Saturday when the #20 Northwest Industrial bus didn’t come. It was okay, it just meant waiting outside in the frigid sub-Arctic temperatures with wind coming from every direction and no cover in sight. I’m sure the half-a-dozen people I was waiting with loved it every bit of our winter adventure as I did.

Really though, any ambitions about more buses, new routes, and epic team-ups with Grand River Transit are pipe dreams so long as the buses don’t get to where they need to be on time.

It’s basic customer service. All those people, who are skipped over when the bus misses a run, are on their way to work, school, home, a get together, a meeting, or somewhere else where they will tell somebody, or everybody they run into, that they waited at the bus stop in the freezing cold for 30 minutes to an hour. No one brags when the bus gets them where they’re going on time, but by God you’ll hear about it if its late again.

I won’t bother with the insanity quote, but when the #41 Downtown University Express still can’t deliver first thing out of the gate on Monday morning the day after changes are initiated to make it’s more effective, what are people supposed to think about Transit’s management?

The blame game? I don’t think we care anymore. We all own a piece of the present state of affairs. Riders have been too cynical to fight for better service. The rest of the public sees the chaos and gets back in their cars. Council hasn’t made it a priority, or worse, played politics with it. Senior staff often seems unable to understand the problems with transit. And Transit drivers seem all too often trapped in the middle.

In other words, fix this!

How long are we to wait now for substantive changes and improvements to be made? How long are we to wait now until the new guy catches up with Spicer’s work on regional transit? How long are we to wait for a new guy at all? Can the city of Guelph properly conduct a service review of a system that’s rudderless, and leaderless? Isn’t the performance of said leader a consideration in the optimization of the system?

Every transit system has its hiccups, every transit system has room for improvement, but Guelph still feels incapable of making substantial changes that result in actual change. We need to figure out why.

As for Spicer, I wish him well. His ambitions seem to have exceed the city’s grasp, and if we’re to ever move forward to the transit system users want and need, we have to figure out why idealism here only ever seems to translate to mediocrity.

Fix this.