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Guelph Transit is utterly flawless now and I love it: A poem, by Adam A. Donaldson

Just kidding! This week's Market Squared is what's sure to be the election transit screed you've all been waiting for
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There’s been a lot of talk this election about what divides us, but what about the things that we have in common?

Going to the ward debates, it’s pretty clear that individual ward concerns can also be fairly described as city-wide concerns.

In the debates I’ve been to, there’s always a question of what the candidates are hearing at the doors they’re knocking on, and no matter the candidate, and no matter the ward, there seems to be one answer in common: community safety.

“Community safety” though means a couple of things. Yes, it means the increase of property crime, break and enters into cars and homes, but it also means traffic. I heard it said at Wednesday’s Ward 2 debate that some residents refer to Speedvale Ave as “Speedway Ave."

Agreeing that there’s a problem is the first step to solving it. There will of course be many ideas on how to solve that problem, but at least we all know and understand that there’s a problem.

The same can’t be said for other issues.

Wednesday was also the first community meeting of TAAG, the Transit Action Alliance of Guelph, a group that’s had to be started out of a need for cohesive transit advocacy.

I haven’t had a chance to write about transit this election, which is galling I know. Too much talk about NDP conspiracies and slates, I guess.

Part of the problem is what’s left to say about transit? All the same problems exist now as have existed before. Like last fall, the Twitter feed for Guelph Transit is filled daily with service advisories about cancelled runs, either for a couple of hours, or for the whole day.

This was after the city hired a host of new drivers and trained them, and though some of the new hires washed out according to Mayor Cam Guthrie, there has been an influx of new drivers. Still, the problems persist.

Back in August, Mayor Guthrie released on his blog a follow up of the transit town hall held in the spring. Of the nine topics listed, two-thirds of them mentioned the Transit Service Review. There were also mentions of future budget allocations, but the statement overall was clear. Solving transit problems? We’ll get to that in the future.

It’s a far cry from the immediacy of most election issues. I think of the recent vote on the driveway width bylaw, where a situation went from problem to interim solution in about eight months. Transit’s problems have persisted for years.

Then, when we think about residents’ concerns about “Speedway Ave”, and how cars are racing up and down this major arterial road, we remember that this important street is barely covered by city buses. You can’t talk about reducing traffic without increasing transit service.

By the way, there hasn’t been a lot of talk about increasing transit service, and the one instance where service was increased, on the #3 Westmount, there’s been criticism.

The argument back in January for cutting back runs on several routes was because the metrics didn’t support it. The ridership wasn’t there. This included the #3, which services several schools, and medical offices, not to mention St Joseph’s Health.

Now who can have a problem with staff making service decisions based on data? Well, no one should really, but are they making decisions based on the right data?

McGill University’s department of urban planning published a study earlier this year, that basically said that transit agencies in North America are turning people off using transit by cutting routes and schedules. “The more service a transit authority provides (measured as the number of kilometres driven annually by public transit vehicles—VRK), the more transit trips it will attract,” the authors wrote.

The City has already provided proof that this works in Guelph. Last year, they attributed a 44-per-cent rise in ridership in September because of the addition of the #99 Mainline, which, I may point out, runs every 10 minutes, north to south, Monday to Friday.

That same report also noted that a 10 per cent increase in ticket prices led to a two per cent decrease in ridership. Even in places where cities were building light rail, you can add all the rail you want, but if you cut bus service, ridership still suffers.

Meanwhile, Uber and other ride sharing services have a negligible impact on ridership.

When a city cuts transit service, the message is that there’s no faith in it no matter how well reasoned or well researched the data is. It’s a matter of confidence, in other words, whether you show the math or not.

And if that’s not a persuasive enough argument for frequency, let’s keep in mind that travelling across Guelph in a car takes 10 minutes. On transit, that same trip takes five or six times longer, if not more.

Can’t we agree that we can find something in-between?