By Doug Hallett
Mayor Karen Farbridge says local residents shouldn’t lose hope that Guelph Transit can return to more frequent service sometime in the future, despite its pending abandonment of 15-minute frequency at peak travel times.
City council approval of the change from 15-minute peak weekday service to 20-minute peak service, likely effective Feb. 3, was anticipated at last night’s council meeting.
In an earlier interview, Farbridge said she thinks peak service that’s more frequent than every 20 minutes must return to Guelph at some point.
“I think it is imperative for an urban centre” like Guelph, she said. “But at this point we have to get the reliability” back The change to 20-minute peak weekday service, while retaining 30-minute off-peak service, is disappointing to a city council that “put a lot of support” behind the changes at Guelph Transit that went into effect last Jan. 1, Farbridge said Thursday. The changes included a complete revamping of transit routes, as well as 15-minute peak service.
City councillors “served as a pretty big buffer” for transit officials this year, fielding a lot of complaints from transit riders, Farbridge said. “Councillors wanted to give enough space and time for the system to settle,” so that transit officials could see which problems might just be temporary.
Once it was determined the new system wasn’t working, though, council expected to be told what needed to be done, she said, and this has happened.
Council has been told that the “level of people not making their connections is way too high,” Farbridge said.
Guelph’s transit system relies heavily on transfers, because the barrier created by the river means there are few north-south bus routes, she noted.
Reliability has to be the biggest factor in the transit system, and the change to 20-minute service is meant to improve reliability, she said.
The revamped route structure and 15-minute service were part of a transit growth strategy approved by council in June 2010, following a comprehensive review of Guelph’s transit system.
This review was about more than service frequency, Farbridge said. It was about “switching from a smaller-town, more traditional transit system to one that is more integrated and that will meet the needs of a new generation.”
But as 2012 has shown, “we still have growing pains in making that paradigm shift,” she said.
Asked what went wrong, Farbridge said the factors were explained in a staff report that went to a council committee last week and then to council last night.
“I guess the combination of factors and how they would add up was underestimated,” the mayor observed.
She said council respects the apology it has received from transit officials and appreciates what the city’s bus drivers have had to go through this year in dealing with irate bus riders.
Before the changes introduced last Jan. 1, Guelph Transit offered 20-minute service all day on weekdays. However, this was costing the city a lot of money.
The feeling was that 20-minute all-day service was “not an efficient use of city resources, as on-street vehicle capacity far exceeded rider demand during off-peak periods,” the new staff report says.
The revamped routes that went into effect Jan. 1 were “developed as part of a table-top exercise” and “were subject to field testing simulating real-world conditions,” the report says.
“However, as with any such exercise, the real test of how effective the routes would be could not be determined until they were put into use,” it says.
A series of adjustments were made to the new routes after Jan. 1 in response to feedback from riders. Then in May, downtown bus operations moved from St. George’s Square to Guelph Central Station on Carden Street.
To address continuing complaints about missed connections, Guelph Transit hired a consultant. The consultant gathered data over a two-week period in September at Guelph Central Station and at the University Centre, which is Guelph Transit’s other main transfer point.
Among other things, the consultant found “numerous instances when buses left a hub prior to the assigned departure,” the report says.
“Approximately 15% of trips were late during weekdays, and up to 25% of connections could be missed, taking into account buses leaving the platform prior to the scheduled departure time,” the report says.
The report notes that the switch to 20-minute service will increase the scheduled “layover” or waiting times for riders on some routes. It will also result in a lower overall passenger-carrying capacity in Guelph Transit’s “base service,” because there will be three buses an hour instead of four during peak periods. “Scheduling will be designed to match demand and capacity during different periods of the day,” the report says.
It also says the change to 20-minute peak service “may likely result in a reduction of operating costs” at Guelph Transit.