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The confusing transit fare plan doesn't address core issues (again)

This week's Market Squared reviews how council, staff, and even the cIty's own advisory group keeps ignoring the problems
2021 10 19 GT – Local New Guelph Transit – TB 05
Link the Watershed Initiative plans to link six local municipal transit services

Welcome to the rain on your parade column. That’s a little joke between me and anyone that understands that one of the functions of this space is to poke holes and untangle threads, so to all the councillors that eagerly endorsed the Transit Fare Strategy that was presented at this week’s committee of the whole, you know what time it is.

First, it took five tries for me to understand the whole basis of the Fare Capping Loyalty Program when I first read the report. At this point, I like to think I’m familiar with the bizarre form of English that council reports are written in, but I had to get a lifeline to understand that you didn’t get 34 rides every month max, but rather it’s more of a pay-as-you-go model; anything after 34 is free.

Buying a monthly pass is currently simple: You pay the fee and you know that you can use the pass to go anywhere, any time on any bus during that calendar month. What am I supposed to do now, count rides? Do I get money back if I don’t use all my rides in a given month? I guess we’ll find out.

But on top of all of this is the reality that the cost of cash fares and monthly passes is going up, and they’re going up between eight and 19 per cent. What’s missing is the commensurate increase in service. We’re going to pay more to take the bus, but we’re going to get the same level of inadequate service for the privilege. Not great.

We also need to talk about the way that this was handled. The fare strategy never came to a meeting of the Transit Advisory Committee in advanced for feedback from the provincial mandated citizens group that’s meant to advise the city on transit matters. They did, apparently, have a Zoom meeting to talk about the plan before committee this week, but that opens up a whole other kettle of fish.

I seem to remember a conversation in council now a couple of years ago about the terms of reference for another committee and what constitutes an “official meeting”. In this case, it was Heritage Guelph and staff were sweating about what it meant if three members of the committee get together at the library to do some research on a potential heritage building. Is that an “official meeting”?

Strange then that a gathering of city staff and members of an advisory committee talking about a new course for transit policy, apparently, doesn’t count as a public meeting. No notice was served, no agenda was posted, and no one beyond transit staff and TAC were, presumably, invited to attend. This is not okay.

But “not okay” has long been the standard with Guelph Transit. The idea that we’re once again on the cusp of a magical increase in ridership because of these changes is to almost literally believe in magic, and it will soon join a litany of other broken promises strewn about the ground like a pile of red Solo cups after a Homecoming party.

For instance, Guelph Central Station opened without promised public washrooms or proper shelters. This will supposedly change in the years to come, but Central Station, as it was originally envisioned, will still arrive nearly 20 years later than intended.

The system has undergone a complete realignment twice in the last 12 years, and each time created more confusion than convenience. And by the way, travel times haven’t changed much as a result of these alterations since almost all routes still require you to make a stop downtown halfway.

On-demand transit was also supposed to create more ridership, and I’ve outlined the repeated problems I’ve had in the past trying to book transit rides on-demand in this space.  

Now let’s talk about the points raised at the meeting that show how fundamentally council doesn’t understand transit’s problems.

First, using complaints as a metric of transit’s performance. I will admit that management has said the right things about encouraging the public to share their transit feedback, but what you must understand is that not complaining about transit to the powers that be is a learned behaviour. In the past, you realized pretty quickly that transit complaints, to transit, went down a black hole and were never heard from again.

Next, the idea that a corporate bus pass is appealing. Why do I keep hearing about the Co-operators moving out of downtown because the lack of parking when they have a deal with the City to subsidize a transit pass? One would think that the Co-operators would be a slam dunk sale being based right across the road from where all the buses park!

Oh, and the idea that the city will work broadly with the Downtown Guelph Business Association to create a corporate pass for small businesses in core? Maybe we can start by getting the DGBA to acknowledge the existence of Guelph Transit as a first move. One would think a system that brings people from all over the city to the core would be a feature, but the DGBA, it seems, does not.

And don’t get me started about branding. Branding, as an exercise, is an activity that comes near the end after you’ve developed a product that people want to buy and you tell them why you think they’d might like to buy it, and nobody, especially the people with alternatives, want to buy Guelph Transit and it’s easy to see why.

If you want to get more people on transit, build more frequency. Create routes that are direct, easy to follow, and cover all the major points in Guelph. Expand the schedule on Sunday for every route, and not just the #99, which does nothing for people in the west and east ends of the city. Make sure people are well aware of detours, and that all bus stops are more than just a poll in the ground.

Finally, and this is essential, make sure that when I walk to a transit stop to get a bus, that a bus comes and that it arrives relatively close to the posted time. Do that because dependability and reliability breeds loyalty best. If I want to collect points, I’ll take my old Club Z card to one of the new Zellers stores.


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Adam A. Donaldson

About the Author: Adam A. Donaldson

In addition to writing his weekly political column for GuelphToday, Adam A. Donaldson writes and manages Guelph Politico, frequently writes for Nerd Bastards and sometimes has to do less cool things for a paycheque.
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