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Every day, people have places they need to go, on time. Every day, people riding Guelph Transit wonder if they’ll get where they need to go, on time. There are ways to keep transit moving – transit priority. So far, Guelph has talk about it for the last 5-6 years but has not done anything. Without transit priority, our system is slow, unreliable, and unpopular.
When transit runs late, it plays havoc with people’s schedules. Traffic is the biggest culprit slowing down transit; vehicles caught in transit easily fall behind schedule. Traffic isn’t entirely predictable – some days are worse than others. On Thursday an intersection could be a 2-minute delay, but on Friday it’s a 6-minute delay. It’s hard to build unpredictability into a reliable schedule. Technology to track vehicles helps a bit but knowing where your ride is won’t get it moving.
Transit priority is the most effective way to increase reliability. Regardless of the vehicle – bus, light rail, streetcars, or big trains – they need a clear path free from traffic to run quickly and on time. This is what transit priority provides.
Like many things, there’s a spectrum of transit priority options to choose from. The Cadillac is a separate, dedicated right-of-way, meaning tracks or roads only for transit. Subways, commuter rail, and Ottawa’s busway are all examples. Dedicated right-of-ways let transit move lots of transit vehicles and huge numbers of people, quickly and reliably.
The Honda Civic of transit priority – reliable and reasonably priced – would be dedicated transit lanes on roads or highways. Transit bypasses most traffic, but can still be slowed down by traffic lights, by vehicles turning, or by clueless tourists caught in the wrong lane. Transit lanes dramatically increase transit speed and reliability over standard bus or streetcar service.
Standard bus service in Guelph runs entirely in mixed traffic, using the same congested lanes as all other traffic. This is the Hyundai Pony of transit – slow, unreliable, and frustrating. Transit gets no priority over other vehicles, so accidents or traffic jams slow transit and throws routes off schedule.
All of Guelph Transit services are bus routes running entirely in mixed traffic. 100% of riders use routes that run in mixed traffic, and for most people, there isn’t a better transit option. Busy routes to the hospitals, universities, downtown Guelph and the intensification corridors and major hubs get no transit priority and are routinely caught in traffic. Service that’s slow and sometimes late: no wonder lots of people choose not to ride Guelph Transit. Ridership model share did not meet the 2005 Transportation Master Plan and decreased, so we weren’t even heading in the right direction.
If Guelph really wants more people riding transit, we need to get serious about transit priority that keeps people moving quickly and reliably. We need much more than what’s currently proposed (Gordon Street corridor and Transit Quality Network within the Transportation Master Plan). We need to invest in permanent, dedicated infrastructure to keep transit moving. We have to look at major corridors – on-street and off-street – that can start moving lots of people, quickly and reliably. We need to give transit space to skip traffic and get people moving. That should happen within the upcoming Transit Master Plan.
Investing in fast, frequent, and reliable transit won’t be cheap or easy, but the timing is perfect. The federal government has committed billions for urban transit. Now is the time to decide what projects can transform our system. Now is the time for bold proposals that will move tens of thousands of new riders every day.
Giving transit significant priority over traffic could transform our city. Getting transit past traffic would speed commutes, improve reliability and attract new riders. Faster service is not only more popular, but it’s also cheaper to operate. More revenue, lower costs, fewer cars on the road, and fewer emissions: win, win, win, win. It’s well past time that Guelph makes transit priority a serious priority.
- With files from IMTB/Sean Gilles