The Toronto Region Board of Trade handed out some report cards to transit systems across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area last week, and Guelph received a D+. Naturally, such a shockingly terrible grade prompted Guelph’s mayor and Guelph Transit’s general manager to take immediate steps to address the concerns raised by the TRBOT.
Haha. Just kidding.
Of course they didn’t take the damning indictment of our transit system well, but instead of looking at how they can actually improve the letter grade, Cam Guthrie complained on social media and Robin Gerus started working the refs.
And it worked. Guelph now has a C+ without ever having to effect any actual changes. Like the kid who takes his report card back to his teacher and says that his dad won’t let him go to summer camp if he brings home a D, we can now celebrate how we’re not among the worst in the GTHA, which is the only thing that really matters to anyone at city hall on this issue: looking better than the next guy.
I hate talking like this. I was actually getting ready to write a nice column about transit after using the holiday on-demand service lately and having some fairly positive experiences. That should have been the story. We’re not great, we know we’re not great, and we’re trying to do better, let me tell you how. Instead, we’ve now got a story about the twin furies, ignorance and impetuousness.
First, it’s the Toronto Region Board of Trade. One could make the argument that it’s bit unreasonable to compare Guelph Transit to services like the TTC or MiWay, which cover larger and more densely aligned populations. Also, we’re just lumping Guelph and Waterloo Region in with the rest of the GTHA pro forma now? I guess so.
Second, what does a D+ mean? The D grade is the last stop before a fail, which means that you’ve done just enough work to pass but you haven’t distinguished yourself doing that work in either method, timeliness, or enthusiasm. Does Guelph Transit get you from point A to point B? Yes, it does. But how does it do it?
I live in the Willow and Westwood area, and taking Guelph Transit to the site of the new South End Community Centre is a 90-minute bus ride. By comparison, it takes 90 minutes to get from Guelph Central Station to Union Station on the GO Train.
Average cross-town trips on transit take between 45 minutes to an hour, and almost always require a transfer at Guelph Central Station. By comparison, those same trips in a private automobile takes 10 minutes.
Long streets like Edinburgh Road, Victoria Road, and Speedvale Avenue don’t have a single bus that covers them in their entirety.
The south end is a patchwork mess of permanent routes, on-demand service, and limited time schedules that only run when the University is open. If you want to get around south of Stone, you’re pretty much only doing it in a car.
Guelph Transit barely runs till midnight on weekdays and Saturday, and even in the year 2023 Sunday service begins after 9 am and ends around 6:30 pm.
We’re still waiting for improvements to Guelph Central Station that were supposed to be a part of the original design when it opened over a decade ago. Work on creating new enclosed shelters at the station was supposed to begin in June and it looks like that work is still not getting started when we’re this close to mid-July.
Nearly one-quarter of all the bus stops in Guelph still don’t have a concrete pad, and many of those are little more than a pole in ground. Nearly three-quarters of all the bus stops in Guelph don’t have a shelter. Getting on the bus is hardly inviting when the stop is a muddy patch at the side of the road.
Guelph Transit presented their fair review strategy to city council before it was ever seen by the Transit Advisory Committee, the residents’ group whose entire existence is supposed to be around providing advice to council and staff *before* it becomes policy. They were the last ones to provide feedback on the strategy, which ended up raising many transit fares.
There’s a lack of support from this community’s supposedly environmentally-friendly activist class who still drive to all their climate crisis protests and green new deal town halls.
And, perhaps most damningly, no support from this City’s leaders, who nearly all will tell you that they would love to use transit more, but they can’t because this transit service doesn’t meet their needs, which begs the question, if transit isn’t working for the people who manage it then why the hell is it supposed to work for the rest of us?
Even so-called service improvements are creating new issues. Increases to all-day long 20-minute service on some routes has actually increased travel times on some cross-town journeys because you have to wait for certain connections now.
The implementation of the new fares, and especially fare capping, is inevitably going to lead to confusion and anger because that’s always the reaction when transit changes things. They may work out in the long run, but the dedicated users will have to dragged kicking and screaming into accepting them, and all for the vainglorious hope that the thousands of people in Guelph who won’t use transit, even if they were paid, might see its value.
This situation is emblematic of a big problem in Guelph, an unwillingness to accept reality when it doesn’t match the perfect self-image we have of this community. Yes, this city has earned its D+ grade for transit. Hopefully, everyone at City Hall can sleep well comforted by the Board of Trade’s pity, but the rest of us are wondering what transit drama awaits us tomorrow.