Should smaller cities invest in mass transit systems?

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Pradip Rodrigues

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

Comments: 2

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  1. LRTs are a throwback to the early 1900s. They are really ‘street cars’ whose name has been tarted-up, and that being accompanied by aggressive
    PR campaigns, to have naive and receptive municipal councils buy them. When this project was being touted at Mississauga City Hall, some questions were raised – including, who was going to pay for ongoing maintenance once the LRT was built – the Province or the City? While the answer might have been forthcoming, given the serious lack of MSM coverage of events in Mississauga, I have not seen that answer. Which leads to another question, will there be a need for future Mississauga tax increases to sustain this unnecessary project?

    Former Premier, Dalton McGuinty, allowed an ideology to win over common sense, and he launched the foolish ‘Green Energy’ boondoggle. And then McGuinty’s successor, the ideological Kathleen Wynne, continued to foster that ‘Green Energy’ program, which was not financially sustainable. At some point, the Liberals started selling large amounts of electricity to nearby States in the USA – those sales were done at a loss of money. That is, the Liberals sold electricity to the USA at a low price, while it cost us a high price to produce that Ontario electricity. That continues to this day – because, what else are we going to do with it? For reports on Liberal waste when it comes to electricity management, see:

    (1) “Ontarians paid $37 billion extra for electricity from 2006-14, says auditor general Bonnie Lysyk” Rob Ferguson and Robert Benzie:
    Toronto Star (2015.12.02)
    (2) “Ontario lost up to $1.2 billion selling clean energy: engineers” Antonella Artuso – Toronto Sun (2017.11.21)

    (Check your electricity bill. The rates are much higher than they were when McGuinty became Premier in 2003; even taking inflation into account. We are still paying for the Liberals’ energy fiasco, and will continue to do so for years to come. Note that before Wynne lost the 2018 Provincial election, she started to subsidize our electricity bills, so they are lower than they should be. But, eventually that subsidy will not be available, and then a new electricity reality is going to hit unsuspecting Hydro users. Thanks to Liberals Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne. “The evil that men do lives after them.” – Marc Antony)

    It would appear that McGuinty and Wynne were looking for additional ways to dump the large amounts of very expensive ‘Green Energy’ produced. So, electricity-using LRTs became part of their ‘solution’ for how to get rid of all the power being generated. Hence, an LRT was on offer for the City of Brampton, which rejected the money, because they recognized that an LRT did not meet their needs. And then there was Kitchener-Waterloo (now in operation) and Hamilton (whose final decision on the LRT is not known to me) and Mississauga, whose former Mayor Hazel McCallion adopted this as one her legacy boondoggles – since Kathleen Wynne was one of Hazel’s BFFs – friends, who come and go as their opportunism waxes and wanes. (Note that Hazel had long-tried to pull Mississauga out of the Region of Peel. Would catering to Kathleen Wynne and her electricity-dumping needs have paved the road for this exit?)

    Then Bonnie Crombie, ‘crowned’ by Hazel to become her successor, Mayor Crombie mindlessly fell into line, and she continued to promote and then adopt this supposed ‘solution’ for a ‘problem’ which does not exist – but which will develop other problems, as Mississauga grows to a million residents and beyond, when residents continue to use vehicles, when the LRT becomes an obstacle to traffic, etc., etc. Bonnie Crombie-made (future) problems could have been avoided if Mayor Crombie had put that billion dollars plus into some kind of accruing savings account which could one day be used for a more rational mode of urban public transit. That is, a Hurontario subway, which could have been built a few kilometres at a time, as is done in other cities, such as Vienna.

    If Bonnie Crombie insisted on lusting after an LRT, a place for such a transit system would have been on the Hydro right-of-way which runs from Etobicoke, and west across the Credit River into Oakville – more or less along the Queensway Road. That would have minimized the LRT ‘streetcar’ from interfering with vehicular traffic. After all, aside from people transiting North and South, many more thousands transit East to Toronto, and then West – back home.

    However, Bonnie Crombie and Council, following lock-step in Hazel’s misguided path, have now adopted the transportation mode of a by-gone era. Which lends credence to Mississauga’s unspoken motto: “Mississauga – building for 1900”.

    Peter Michael
    2019.07.12

  2. ‘Pure carelessness’: Motorists accused in Ion collisions
    2019.07.20 – Jeff Outhit Waterloo Region Record

    Waterloo launched its new LRT – the ION – a couple of weeks ago. Drivers of vehicles are still in the early stages of learning how to deal with this new feature on their streets. Ten vehicle-ION accidents have occurred so far. The newspaper account notes the accidents by street. Here is part of the article. The rest can be viewed by tapping into the Waterloo Record.

    WATERLOO REGION — Police now avoid driving on King Street West between Kitchener and Waterloo, put off by the congested mix of Ion trains and traffic. “In some cases, we try to avoid that stretch if we’re trying to get to a priority call. We’ll take another route,” Staff Sgt. Mike Hinsperger said.

    You may want to do the same. King Street West is the early collision hot spot for the newly launched $1-billion rail transit system. Half of the 10 collisions so far have been on King. It’s a busy route that was significantly altered to put two-way trains in the centre median. This has given it unfamiliar traffic signals and new bans on turns.

    A single traffic lane in each direction prevents motorists from getting around vehicles that slow or stop, creating bottlenecks.
    “Taking an alternate road is certainly a viable alternative,” said Hinsperger, head of the Waterloo Regional Police traffic branch. […]

    Peter Michael
    2019.07.20