page contents Vote Dylan Bressey, candidate for Grande Prairie City Council. Election 2017. page contents

Proposed Transit Master Plan

Transit is important, allowing people who are unable to drive and people who cannot afford vehicles a way to get around. Fewer vehicles on the road eases congestion, saves infrastructure costs, and is good for the environment. Effective transit can also encourage development by allowing municipal governments to reduce parking standards. It is important for any modern city to have a robust and well-organized transit network.

The system in Grande Prairie is outdated and delivers sub par service. Today, Council will be discussing whether to adopt a new Transit Master Plan to update and upgrade our system.

 

THE SHORT VERSION

I’ve given myself first-hand experience by spending time on our buses. The proposed Master Plan is good overall, but I have some questions and concerns. I am disappointed that it has no regional consideration. Fares are low, and if it means better service I would like to see them increased faster than the Plan calls for. Our routes and communication technology are very outdated: I am glad the Plan calls for remaking them. I also like that the Plan calls for more shelters, but I am concerned the budget may not account for their maintenance and trash removal. If we do roll out this Plan, we need to keep our eyes on revenue and expenses through its execution. We need to adjust our approach if we don’t see the projected ridership increases, and we need to explore alternate forms of transit revenue. We also need to explore more efficient ways of ramping up our operator hours. I have provided additional considerations Council needs to make when looking at the budget side of this Plan.


THE LONG VERSION
Before moving to Grande Prairie, I used transit extensively. I frequently use transit when I travel. We are a single car family, so there are times I have no vehicle available. I’m a potential customer for Grande Prairie transit. However, I have not heard good things about our system. So until recently, I chose not to gain first-hand experience riding one of our City buses.

I knew this had to change if I wanted to comment on transit intelligently. This led me to spend some time riding our buses. Below are some of my first-hand observations and my thoughts on the proposed Transit Master Plan.

If you scroll down to the bottom of this post, I let you know how you can find out more about the Transit Master Plan for yourself.

 

This Plan Has No Regional Focus

The first thing I noticed when I saw the Transit Master Plan: it is only talking about the City of Grande Prairie. This was very disappointing to me. A focus of Council needs to be Working as a Region (see www.voteBressey.ca/strategic). Due to upcoming provincial changes in how municipalities interact, I believe that City-County relations are THE issue facing our next Council (see www.voteBressey.ca/icfs). I know the County has a strong appetite for regional transit opportunities, and the lack of them has been a point of tension. I also think that the City will benefit if we can encourage more County residents to work and spend within city limits. I was very disappointed not to see our municipal neighbours accounted for in this plan. Going forward, all Master Plans (not just for transit) need to include regional considerations.

 

My Kids Love Transit

My kids had never been on a City bus. At ages five and three, the idea of riding one was thrilling for them. So I took them on a trip to the library. My youngest was very fascinated by the red window escape levers, which concerned me. At one point, my oldest told me “dad, if we want, we can smoke on this bus!” I asked him why he thought we could do that. He answered “because there are no no-smoking signs.” Apparently, this was exciting to him. Although I don’t know why since no one in our family smokes...

 

Transit is Cheap

For all of us to take a trip, it was only $2. It is even cheaper if you take frequent rides using a pass. The average person on our system is paying $0.96/trip. Revenue from fares only covers 17% of our transit operations. The Master Plan calls for bumping this up to $1.68/trip and 23% of operational costs in ten years. I am told that GP Transit customer surveys show that riders want better service and are willing to pay more if they receive it. I’m also told that Canadian cities of our size usually recover about 30% of their transit costs from fares. We should bump fares up quicker; perhaps 23% should be our goal in year five rather than year ten. At the same time, I’d like to know more about the subsidized passes we offer. I would be open to expanding their availability. I want those who use transit to pay a reasonable share. At the same time, I want to make sure transportation is affordable to our most vulnerable citizens.

 

My Bus Was Late. Routes Need Updating.

On the trip I took with my kids, the first bus was late. This made me worried about making a transfer on time. But everything was ok, because there was a puddle to splash in and our second bus was late too. I have yet to get on a bus that arrived on time. I’m told that late buses are a frequent reality of our current system. Apparently this is due to our routes being ten years old--they’ve been stretched but not revamped as our City has grown significantly. The Plan calls for a complete overhaul of our bus routes. I want to learn more about whether the routes selected will work well. But I certainly support their re-making. Sometimes you need to start all over with a system, and this is certainly one of those times.

 

Mobile Tech a Miss

I tried to plan my routes using a printed “Rider’s Guide” from the City. It was confusing. I ended up using Google Maps instead. But this app only seems to have scheduled bus times in it, not real-time bus updates. To find real-times, I used GP Transit’s website. This told me where the bus was, but required me to constantly refresh the page for updates. We can do better with our technology. I am glad the Plan calls for updating this experience.

 

Having No Shelter Is No Fun

It was raining on the day I had planned to take my kids on the bus. I thought about delaying our trip, but realized many don’t have that option. So we took it anyway. The stop near our house has no shelter. Neither kid wanted to share an umbrella, which meant I got soaked. And the bench was wet too. My kids got tired and wanted to sit down, but couldn’t. Right now, 6% of our stops have shelters. The plan calls for an increase to 30%. I support this increase. However, I want to be sure we are building maintenance and trash removal for these shelters into our operations budget. Often this detail gets missed when the City builds small facilities.

 

Concerns About Ridership

The buses I rode felt empty. Our ridership is low: 1.3% of the population uses transit. The Plan hopes to address this. It assumes that we will see 1.7% annual growth in usership due to population increase and 5% annual growth due to customers attracted by improved service. The Plan assumes that if we improve service, more people will use it. I don’t know if that is necessarily the case but am willing to give it a try. If this Plan is implemented, we need to monitor usage increase carefully. I don’t want us to be paying for trips that are not happening. If we are not seeing the increase in ridership that is projected, we may need to scale back or delay capital acquisitions and increases to service frequencies.

 

Ads Are Sparse

The most ads I saw inside a bus: two. The space created for more was empty. This seems like a lost revenue opportunity. I assume that increasing ridership will increase the marketability of this space. We should capitalize on that. I want us to make sure we are looking at every opportunity to recover costs on Transit operations.

 

Drivers Are Awesome. But Are We Using Them Efficiently?

I’m told that customer surveys always give high marks to our drivers. And I can see why. All the ones I talked to were cheerful and helpful. One told me with a big smile “I love this job,” and it showed. Another instantly noticed when my five-year-old stood up in the back of the bus. She was about to pull out from a stop, but delayed departure until he was seated again. I like our drivers. But one mentioned to me that they are all employed part-time with good benefits. He wished for full-time hours. I want to learn more about this situation, because if true it seems like an expensive way to employ people. The Plan calls for hiring 37 additional operators over 10 years. That represents a lot of money in salary and benefits. Can we save money by giving fewer operators more hours? If so, we should do that.

 

Operating Cost is A Concern

This Plan is expensive. This year, the net cost of Transit is $3.7 million. By year 10, the Plan increases this cost to $8.2 million. Is it worth it? If we see the projected increase in ridership, maybe. But Council needs to monitor budget increases carefully. Council needs to make sure that fares are remaining appropriate and other sources of revenue (eg: marketing) are being explored. It needs to ensure that Transit is delivering its service efficiently. Council also needs to explore possibilities of sharing costs with regional partners. And of course, it needs to consider Transit costs holistically within the rest of the City budget. To read more about what Council should consider when examining budgets, checkout www.voteBressey.ca/taxes.

 

Capital Cost Is Unclear

This Plan calls for $26,000,000 in Capital Costs. I know a lot of this will be accounted for in grants from senior levels of government. For example, it is my understanding that the Province has committed $3.2 million through its Green TRIP grant. However, exactly how much the City anticipates receiving in grants and how much it will pay on its own is hard to find. This is a common problem with capital projects. I would love to see this data made more easily available to taxpayers.

 

Get In on The Conversation

Transit is an important part of our community. It is also a big item in the City budget. Whether we ride it or not, transit impacts all of us. So I would love to hear your opinions on the new Transit Master Plan.

Here are some ways that you can learn more:

I attended the initial presentation of the Transit Master Plan. I made a post which included key information from this meeting. You can read it by clicking here.

To download an Executive Summary of the Plan for yourself, click here. 

The Community Living Committee will be discussing this Plan today (Sept. 5) at 2:00pm. The meeting takes place at City Hall, and you are welcome to observe. I will be there.

If the Growth Committee likes the Plan, they may have it put on the Council agenda for tonight. This meeting starts at 6:30. You can attend the meeting yourself, or watch it online by clicking here. Since it will be available online, I will not be attending the meeting. Instead, I will be out knocking on doors. But I will be watching it as soon as the recording is posted.

The best place to discuss what is happening in Grande Prairie is the GP Round Table. This includes a very active Facebook group and a series of live events. More information is at www.gpRoundTable.ca

I look forward to hearing your thoughts! Thanks for talking about how to make Grande Prairie more sustainable, livable, and connected.

-Dylan