Whenever I see empty or near empty transit buses running along the streets of smaller cities around the GTA, it serves as a reminder that something is wrong in the way we plan cities and public transit. Should cities be first planning new sub-divisions and then creating bus routes as an afterthought or should transit routes be pre-planned and developers forced to work around it?
Cities across the region are scrambling to address the issue of road widening and tout mass transit systems as one of the main ways to alleviate traffic congestion. However, that ship seems to have sailed, these efforts seem a little too late.
All across north America ridership on the largest transit systems have fallen. These include Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, DC.
American bus ridership alone fell by 5 percent between 2016 and 2017.
Even the TTC has reported losing ridership and are desperately trying to stanch the hemorrhaging.
Smaller cities are in a quandary, they often don’t have the ridership numbers to justify spending hundreds of millions of dollars on mass transit and when they do, they end up being terribly underutilized.
This brings me to the $1.5B Hurontario-LRT that is set to get underway. It is being touted as a project that will ease congestion along the busy Hurontario corridor that links Brampton and Mississauga. But will it?
I know people living along the corridor who will still be using their cars even after the project is completed because either they work elsewhere or it is simply more convenient to be driving as opposed to using an LRT only to have to jump into a bus or Uber to get to their destination.
I am personally conflicted about mass transit in cities like Mississauga that are defined by urban sprawl. Furthermore, more and more people are working from home as technology makes it possible. With the high cost of real estate, companies find it easier to attract quality employees who would otherwise not have joined had they not been able to work from home most days of the week.
The rise of Uber and other ride sharing apps has made it more convenient not only to avoid owning a car but also using mass transit. We have a generation of millennials who would rather use SkipTheDishes and eat in rather than go out to bars and restaurants, they shop online instead of visiting malls. And when they are forced to go someplace, they use a rideshare option. So, who does public transit really serve? Increasingly it is a class of people who cannot afford a car or taxis and are forced to change two or three buses to get to work. These are the people who are often forced to endure a one hour journey by bus when they could possibly have reached their destination in 20 minutes if they had a car. And it is not that using public transit is cheap, it costs a fair amount.
The question that arises is should new cities and towns be investing in mass transit systems if they are condemned to be under-utilized? It’s complicated. The answer is yes and no. I would for example vote for a subway system across Mississauga that would seamlessly link up to Toronto, but I have strong reservations when it comes to other ambitious projects like the Hurontario-LRT which I am afraid could end up being a white elephant. -CINEWS