Missed Connections

Feb 25, 2019 Transportation

Several days ago, I was asked for my thoughts on transit amalgamation from a couple of seasoned veterans in the urban space.  This was in light of Thursday’s Institute of Municipal Finance and Governance talk on transit regional governance with Joe Berridge, Trisha Wood and Michael Schabas and The Agenda’s panel discussion the night before. While I agree that transit governance and funding are discussions well worth having now, the significance of the end user, aka the passenger has been missing.  I’m not just talking about affordability, mobility or accessibility.  It is about the passenger experience.

A member of the audience at the IMFG talk facetiously brought up John Tory and Doug Ford being faux planners when they don’t take transit.  There is a general disconnect between politicians and the general public.  Case in point: Ottawa.  There is also a disconnect from MOST transit planning staff and the general public.  While in Edmonton, occasionally I would listen to customer complaints that “we as planners don’t ride transit”.  I was probably an anomaly.

My biggest pet peeve about transit service in the GTHA is seamless travel, next to frequencies in the suburbs.  Local operators protect their own service and most politicians do the same. Local transit for short trips are relatively important, but when longer distance passenger travel between suburban municipalities occur, and they require the use of multiple operators with extended transfer times, it becomes an issue.

The Neptis Foundation report on the suburban employment megazones was briefly raised at the IMFG event and contextualizes the challenges of cross-commuting travel.  If choice or captive passengers use transit, forget about using local, let alone, regional transit.  This is the challenge Metrolinx has to address, outside the 407 transitway service and VIVA.  Substandard limited-stop express service that operates in mixed traffic in other municipalities and marketed as bus rapid transit is not feasible for passengers.  New models for origins and destinations are needed.

With the federal election looming, political campaigns will be focused on cutting issues into chunks – usually related to family issues like health care and taxes.  In the transit governance space, while the focus has been on the subway upload and affordability, there needs to be a fulsome discussion on how this will benefit BOTH the regional and local passenger from a customer level.

I got into the transit profession because I understood and experienced the plight of transit riders.  Maybe some days, I took my job a little too seriously.   Meanwhile, transit planning is generally bound by performance measures and service standards policy.  Mission statements are fraught with such language as “comfort and convenience”. Mechanisms like that have a purpose when it comes to accountability, politics, and budgeting.  That doesn’t mean much to the passenger, especially ones who travel throughout the region. As much as I enjoy the high-level policy and strategic discussions amongst friends, from a communications standpoint, it will be drowned out by the everyday users.

Not only are these discussions missing the point, but they are also missing connections for the passenger.

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