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Monday, January 9, 2012

Back on the buses

It has been a somewhat extended break since my last posting. In the interim I turned my attention to some rather pleasant occupations—cooking, entertaining and reading—until after New Year’s Day when the primary concern became the plight of the locked out Electro-Motive Diesel workers.

But first, I need to deal with the last item considered by Council at its last meeting of the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee(SPPC)  before the Christmas break.

It was a reduced committee that received the report and recommendations of the London 2030 Transportation Master Plan. Councillor Swan had missed the entire meeting, Councillor Denise Brown had declared a conflict, and several others seemed to have pressing engagements. As a result, many of those who remained had spent several years, as I did, serving on the London Transit Commission (LTC) Long-Term Growth Strategy Committee. While that committee is separate and distinct from the process for developing a Transportation Master Plan, the interests and concerns are certainly complementary.

The movement of goods and people within and around the city is an expensive proposition, both for individuals and for the community. It is also essential to the functioning of the community. People have to get to work and to school, to doctors’ appointments, to meetings and entertainments. Basic to that is a surface to travel on, but roads, bridges and sidewalks don’t come cheap. Nor do most of the means of travel, whether bicycles or motorized vehicles. Then there is the cost of fuel, insurance and shoe leather. It all adds up. As does the cost of repairing potholes and clearing snow . And unless you are on foot, you still need to store your vehicle somewhere, at home and elsewhere.

It makes sense, therefore, to have as efficient a system as possible, minimizing distance between buildings, using one vehicle instead of several, allowing fewer of them to stand unused, making it possible to use active forms of transportation—walking and biking—rather than expending fossil fuels.

But to do that means building your transportation routes into the structure for your city as a whole. And it means planning ahead how and where your city will grow, not just accepting any offer for development that comes along.

This phase of the Transportation Master Plan arrived in the nick of time. Soon council will be involved in updating the city’s Official Plan, which contains council's objectives and policies to guide the short-term and long-term physical development of all lands within the boundary London. Certainly, transportation will be central to that, especially the provision of public transit.

Not every councillor is convinced of the importance of public transit. Few ever use it. While running for office our current mayor pledged to regularly ride the bus but, as there is no service from Arva, that commitment may have proved difficult to act upon.

And not every councillor is convinced that growth needs to be managed. For some, a high number is all that counts: more houses and more commercial, industrial and institutional buildings to contribute to the tax rolls.  That these developments have to be serviced and maintained is not always taken into account.

In fact, this is why the matter was brought back before the SPPC. The staff recommendations had received a rather rough ride back last March when the report was first presented to the then Built and Natural Environment Committee. The members of the committee, save for Councillor Joni Baechler, felt the growth targets recommended by staff as reasonable projections were not sufficiently optimistic. Staff had been requested to come back after including some provision for higher growth rates that might be attained as a result of the current council’s policies and efforts.

And, indeed, some changes had been made. Although staff was sticking to its original projection of 1 per cent growth per year based on past experience, it also provided for the possibility of enhanced growth of 2 per cent should it occur. Intensification of development (the per cent of development occurring in already developed areas as opposed to “Greenfield” development) was pegged at 40 per cent.

I was surprised to hear that 40 per cent is in fact the five year average of intensification of new development in London. After all, the current Growth Management Implementation Strategy contemplates only a 22 per cent intensification rate and some on council have found that too restrictive. It was pointed out, however, that even infill development doesn’t necessarily occur where it will be most supportive of transit.

Intensification is clearly essential to an effective transportation plan and to supporting a fast, efficient public transit system. Unless there are enough riders at each stop and buses arrive frequently and on schedule, it is hard to get people to leave their cars at home or to avoid buying a second car, thereby creating a demand for more and wider roads and parking spaces.

But criticisms of the report were muted and praise abundant. After all, working from a baseline of one per cent growth reflected current reality while the possibility of higher growth rates could be accommodated if they materialized. And no higher level of government will consider giving any municipality a cent for public transit if it hasn’t managed a minimum intensification rate of 40 per cent. But it may require some work to get that into the Official Plan, and even more to act upon it when all eyes are on the development they want outside the urban growth boundary and around the 401.

Councillor VanMeerbergen predictably wanted to know what the plan was for cars. For him, transportation is about building roads for private vehicles. The buses can use the roads too, he conceded, although he was concerned about the dedicated lanes for bus rapid transit (BRT). Would that just take away a lane for cars? He was assured that the various corridors would be evaluated for this approach. He was obviously comfortable enough with the plan that he didn’t feel a necessity to stay for the vote.

Councillor Henderson made some strange comments. He announced he was “passionate” that he could not vote for this. He felt the whole plan was missing the point. What was needed was a new sales approach. Sell the tickets on the bus for a dollar. Allow for the use of a credit card. Don’t make the buses go downtown, have transit nodes to handle the suburbs.  Have bus service to all the outlying communities—St. Thomas, Glencoe, Dorchester. He failed to mention his own community, somewhere near Komoka and Mount Brydges.  

Larry Ducharme, general manager of LTC, wasn’t taking any of it. He pointed out that SmartCards, while in the works, do not increase ridership; they simply remove money from the system.  Only half of all bus trips go downtown. Supporting transportation nodes is an important part of the plan presented. And where would the money for service to other communities come from and who would benefit?

Not deterred by the lack of support from other councillors, Henderson stood alone in voting against the staff recommendations.

But many of the sceptics had taken off before the vote and even the presentation and discussion, leaving a bare quorum. Whether they will be supportive when the recommendations come before council remains to be seen.

A comment on the London Free Press article and photo of the pizza-eating LTC driver:

This is about as nasty as it comes. The driver was breaking no laws and not engaged in any dereliction of duty. It was a cheap shot, designed to embarrass and humiliate. How this can be justified, especially when evaluated in contrast to the kid gloves with which a television personality was recently treated?

And it's clear the driver can't win: if he stops to eat his lunch, he is criticized for interrupting the trip; if he eats while working, he is publicly humiliated. 

I wonder if a picture of the photographer is being circulated among the drivers?


Sheryl said...

I'm always amazed that the folks who have the grandeur plans for the LTC NEVER take the bus. Ever. Pay the ridiculous fare, ride it, try to get somewhere on time or in a reasonable amount of time and then make some constructive criticism and suggestions.
As for the pizza eating bus driver, I agree with you completely.

Marion Miller said...

I was on that bus. let's just say that consuming a whole pizza while driving a bus with your wrists is probably not a good idea. There is a Horton's right beside the Stobie's where the driver bought his meal and a sandwich would have been a safer choice. While eating he was slow in in responding to passengers who had signaled a stop. they had to call out for the next three stops. Why would this be embarrassing to the driver and humiliating as you say if he was doing nothing wrong?
And, why are you being so nasty?

Sandy Levin said...

I was also at the meeting Gina. The Transportation Plan is an update and required not only for the Official Plan but also calculating the transportation component of the next Development Charges Study. Most of the cost is for roads as any one who has read the work to date knows. How the discussion got off track to focus only on transit is hard to say.

I also wondered about the 40% intensification. According to Planning staff, it is that 40% of new housing (which includes apartments of course) has been built within the boundaries of the pre-annexation city. This apparently is consistent with how the Province defines intensification.

Jesse Ventura said...


I don't think it's being nasty to ask for a little evenhandedness in news coverage.

But if you favour conspiracy theories, maybe Gina is in the employ of the fat (or thin-crust) pizza lobby.

Jesse Ventura

Anonymous said...

Gina, I saw someone get hit by a bus once and hearing about a driver eating pizza and steering with his wrists serves to remind me to be extremely careful near those huge vehicles.
As for the culprit of an aleged domestic assult getting the kid glove treatment, I disagree with your scorn. I think his wife was given thoughtful concideration and respect. ... Peace be with her.

Anonymous said...

I too drive clients in a vehicle for a private firm in town. Many times, I have to eat lunch on the go in order to achieve the customer's desired pick-up time.
Yes, everyone should have a proper lunch break. However, delivering satisfaction in today's customer orientated environment too often means a hastily eaten slice while driving. Safe? not really. Complaints if I stop for lunch and mess up the collections? Many! I can empathise with the driver's dilemma