By Doug Hallett
A $25,000 bus stop near the north end of Wyndham Street could be the start of changes in the bus system needed to help struggling businesses on upper Wyndham, following this year’s move of the bus transfer point from St. George’s Square to Carden Street.
Wyndham Street businesses have been “negatively affected” by the Guelph Transit move to the Guelph Central Station on Carden, said Marty Williams, executive director of the Downtown Guelph Business Association. He said longtime customers are telling these stores they are “having trouble getting to them.”
Coun. Bob Bell called it an “emergency situation.” He told council, “Merchants on upper Wyndham, through no fault of their own, are under an enormous amount of pressure.”
The city’s bus routing, which was revamped this year, needs to be changed so there are more bus stops and buses running along Wyndham, which is Guelph’s “main street,” Williams said. He suggested a “tweaking” of as many as four or five bus routes to make this happen.
There are currently no bus stops north of St. George’s Square along Wyndham, Williams said.
He asked council to resolve his association’s “fundamental disagreement” with transit officials, who argue city buses won’t be able to stay on schedule if they have to travel along Wyndham.
“We’ve been told the buses won’t run on time if they go down Wyndham Street,” Williams said. But his association doesn’t accept that the bus system “is perfect as it is” and that its suggestions “would throw sand in the gears,” he said.
Guelph Transit general manager Michael Anders said five bus routes currently go through St. George’s Square, which he said is 250 metres from the Guelph Central Station.
Anders also said there’s a bus stop on Woolwich Street near the Sleeman Centre where people can get off and walk indoors to the square.
Having buses go along Wyndham instead of Woolwich would mean facing six traffic signals instead of four, Anders said.
Having buses go along Wyndham would require acquisition of technology to allow bus drivers to control the timing of the traffic signals, council was told.
Another measure being considered by council is to look at the cost of a downtown shuttle connecting businesses to the terminal on Carden.
Costing a downtown shuttle was the recommendation that came to council from its operations, transit and emergency services committee, but council wanted a broader approach to the problem.
Coun. Lise Burcher said people’s access to the downtown “has been quite negatively hampered” by the changes made this year to the bus system.
In the end, council voted to consider the budget implications of options for providing better bus access to the downtown as part of setting the city’s 2013 operating budget. It also preauthorized city staff to spend up to $25,000 on moving a Woolwich Street bus stop to near the end of upper Wyndham.
A bus stop there would require concrete work to deal with a grade separation between the road and the sidewalk, said Derek McCaughan, the city’s executive director of operations and transit.
Councillors asked if the bus stop could be installed in time for the Christmas shopping season to help upper Wyndham businesses, but McCaughan said it couldn’t be done quickly even if $25,000 can be found within the city’s 2012 budget. “At the earliest, the end of November or mid-December, and that’s only if all the stars line up,” he said.
In a preview of a likely fight when council sets the 2013 operating budget in early December, Coun. Maggie Laidlaw said council should consider ending free downtown parking and put the money towards more buses running through the core. “What we have now is free parking and no bus stops on upper Wyndham,” she said, arguing people without cars need better access not only to stores on upper Wyndham, but also to health and social service offices there.
Coun. Karl Wettstein responded by arguing that restoring parking meters in the downtown, to gain parking revenue for the city, would hurt all downtown businesses.
Removing the downtown parking meters was part of the election platform of Mayor Karen Farbridge in 2006, when she beat former mayor Kate Quarrie. Council subsequently decided to remove the meters, but the issue has come up a number of times since then at city budget-setting time.