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TAAG @ Green Drinks Guelph (Full Speech)

On September 14th, our Chair, Steven Petric, spoke at the monthly “Green Drinks Guelph” gathering, where some Guelphites interested in conversation and a few pints meet (almost) monthly at the Red Chevron Club in Guelph. Below is part of the speech given that evening.


Transforming Guelph’s Transit: A Vision for a Thriving City of Frequent, Affordable, and Accessible Transit.

By Steven Petric, Co-founder and Chair of the Transit Action Alliance of Guelph (TAAG)

Greetings, fellow advocates of public transportation in Guelph. I’m Steven Petric, co-founder and current chair of the Transit Action Alliance of Guelph (TAAG). Since our establishment in 2017, our mission has been clear: to elevate the transit discussion in our community and work collaboratively to promote better public transportation.

Imagine a world where you’re not stuck in endless traffic or waiting forever at a bus stop, wondering when the next bus will arrive. A world where cities breathe and move seamlessly. Today, I’m here to share a vision—a vision where we transform our city’s pulse through a powerful tool: robust, frequent transit.

Henri Lefebvre once said, “It’s not just about being in a city but about making it our own.” At the heart of this lies our collective growth and change. It’s about coming together, interacting, moving around, and, yes, it’s about how we get from point A to B, whether by buses, bikes, or on foot.

The Green Promise of Robust Transit

According to the Government of Canada, transportation contributes to 23% of our greenhouse gas emissions. It’s clear that electric vehicles must be part of the future, but they can’t be the sole solution for urban mobility. Real urban transformation demands fewer cars on our streets, decreased driving, diverse mobility alternatives, and thriving communities. Together, these pillars pave the way for a sustainable, vibrant future.

Robust transit systems catalyze economic growth and enhance job opportunities by bolstering businesses along transit corridors. The Canadian Urban Transit Association states that every dollar invested in transit can result in a three to five-dollar return.

Reduced car traffic translates to less noise pollution and cleaner air, which diminishes health problems. Robust transit systems promote more walking and cycling, fostering healthier urban lifestyles.

Transit systems maximize urban space utilization, particularly those with dedicated bus lanes. This allows cities to allocate more areas for parks, pedestrian zones, and community spaces.

Fewer vehicles on the road mean fewer accidents and safer streets, a concept championed by Vision Zero. Furthermore, with their predictability, well-organized transit systems can mitigate traffic congestion and mishaps.

Efficient transit systems should be accessible to everyone, bridging the social divide and offering mobility to all, irrespective of socioeconomic standing. “An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport,” said Enrique Peñalosa, former Mayor of Bogotá.

The Green Advantage is multifaceted, touching on economic growth, health, efficient space usage, safety, and social equity. Prioritizing transit is essential for a thriving and sustainable future, given its potential to stimulate the economy and safeguard our environment.

Essential Components of a Transit Trip

Every transit trip has crucial components, and understanding each is essential for a seamless transit experience. The foundation of an effective transit service revolves around trip time and convenience. So, let’s delve into the various stages beyond just the bus ride.

Quoting Jarret Walker’s book “Human Transit”: Every transit journey involves a series of steps, from planning the trip, reaching the bus stop, waiting, boarding and paying, travelling, connecting (which might include repeating steps 2-5), and finally arriving at the destination. Factors such as proximity to bus stops, bus frequency, and payment methods significantly influence each stage. It’s crucial to recognize that a commuter’s perception of time varies during these steps, with waiting, walking, and making connections often feeling the most prolonged.

What makes a good transit system?

For a transit system to be considered adequate, it must possess specific vital characteristics. Our friends at More than Buses in Halifax developed “The Essential Elements of Good Transit,” based on research from top transit experts, including Jarrett Walker, author of “Human Transit.”

1. Speed: We all want our journeys to be swift. To enhance transit speed:

  • Implement transit priority features like exclusive lanes and priority signals.
  • Reduce stop frequency for balanced, rapid bus stop spacing.
  • Streamline routes by minimizing unnecessary turns and twists.
  • Accelerate boarding through off-board fare collection and multiple door entries.

2. Frequency: Nobody enjoys long waits. High-frequency service, particularly every 15 minutes or better on main routes, makes transit a preferred choice. It also decreases travel time due to reduced waiting and allows for more straightforward transfers and route structures.

3. Reliability: Consistency is critical. When transit is punctual, it attracts more riders. To achieve this:

  • Use transit-only lanes to escape traffic, ensuring timely service.
  • Introduce transit priority measures like signals priority.
  • Address network choke points to improve reliability throughout the system.

4. Accessibility: Everyone should access transit easily. This means creating walk-friendly environments around stops with safe crossings and sidewalks, boosting cycling accessibility with dedicated routes, secure storage facilities, and nearby cycling services, and incorporating end-of-trip facilities to cater to long-distance cyclists.

5. User Experience: A user-centric network appeals to all. It should be comfortable with shelters, seating, and reduced crowding. It should have clear maps, real-time update screens, electronic fare systems, and named stops.

6. Land Use Planning: Effective transit integrates with urban design, emphasizing high-density areas and placing job hubs in transit-accessible spots. Main corridors should be direct and robust, with coordinated land and transport planning to guide growth. A good transit system isn’t just about moving people—it’s about creating an optimized, sustainable journey within the urban fabric.

A superior transit system seamlessly integrates the essential elements of speed, frequency, reliability, and more while ensuring each stage of the user’s transit trip is optimized for efficiency and convenience. Meeting users’ diverse needs and preferences are the crux of an effective public transit system.

Key Points to Consider

  1. Frequency as the Backbone of Reliability: Public transit thrives on a core principle: frequency. Renowned transit expert Jarrett Walker aptly captures this sentiment: “Frequency is freedom.” When transit services operate frequently, 15 minutes or better on key routes, it reduces wait times and the unpredictability of scattered schedules. Such reliability grants passengers the luxury of spontaneity, convenience, and flexibility. It’s more than just a transit system; it’s an assurance that the city is accessible at their discretion.
  2. Accessibility: A Comprehensive Approach: While frequency plays a significant role, accessibility complements it. A top-notch transit system is universally accessible. It goes beyond just the main routes, encompassing pedestrian-friendly stops, safe pathways, and provisions for cyclists. The aim is not merely connecting points A to B but making the journey between them as fluid and user-friendly as possible.
  3. Affordability: The Lure of Increasing Ridership: A transit system’s allure lies in its affordability. It’s a straightforward equation: cost impacts popularity. Attractive fares elevate the system’s appeal and invite a more significant segment of society to choose public transportation over personal cars. However, affordability shouldn’t undercut reliability. Even if it’s free transit, an unreliable service will face reluctance. On a broader spectrum, affordable transit contributes to cleaner environments, healthier communities, and bustling business hubs in transit-friendly zones. Adopting unified payment systems, like the Presto expansion across Ontario cities, amplifies these benefits, endorsing regular usage, and ensuring passengers get optimal value.
  4. Intermodal Transportation: The Art of Seamless Transition: Elite transportation systems see the bigger picture. They merge modes – buses, trains, cycling, or walking – ensuring effortless integration. A defining characteristic of premier transport networks is their emphasis on first and last-mile connectivity. By facilitating seamless transitions among various modes, these systems present a compelling case for commuters to choose public transit over individual cars.

Guelph’s Transit Concerns, Strategy, & The Global Perspective:

Guelph stands proud of its promise and ambition, reflecting a city eager to embrace the future. However, when it comes to public transportation, our progress could be more active compared to the fast-paced advancements of global cities. While investing in electric buses is a step forward, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Flaunting an electric fleet means little without the financial muscle to run them efficiently. We require not just capital investments but also robust operational funding from all levels of government. After all, what’s the point of a state-of-the-art electric bus if it’s left parked due to budgetary constraints?

While laudable, the city’s “Future Ready” plan barely scratches the surface of what’s truly possible and necessary. As top transit experts help cities craft comprehensive solutions, Guelph’s hesitance to wholeheartedly adopt these measures is substantial. The urgency is further accentuated by the recent C40 cities announcement that cities need to double public transport ridership in a decade to align with climate goals. It’s a clarion call, underscoring that the “Future Ready” plan is merely our starting line, not our finish.

We dream of a Guelph where every nook and cranny, from streets to neighborhoods, is integrated by efficient transit and active transportation. But dreams alone won’t suffice. It’s high time to shift from mere planning to dynamic implementation, embracing feedback, and upgrading strategies with help from top experts and the community. Let’s not limit ourselves to theoretical blueprints; the moment to sculpt our Transit and Transportation Vision is now, ensuring every Guelphite enjoys the benefits of a world-class public transit system in a multimodal city.

Conclusion and Call to Action:

The future of Guelph hinges on our collective efforts. With global best practices as our compass, the pillars of an effective transit system — frequency, affordability, and accessibility — lay before us, clear as day. However, breaking free from the inertia of bureaucratic delays and departmental silos at City Hall is our true challenge. The vibrant future we envision for Guelph demands more than just well-intentioned words; it requires tenacity, collaboration, and decisive action.

Imagine a Guelph echoing with the hum of efficient buses, the rhythm of seamless train connections, the bells of bicycles whizzing past, and the cheerful buzz of pedestrians. This isn’t just a dream – it’s a possibility within our grasp. But to make it a reality, we need your voice. We need to unite cyclists, environmentalists, businesses, transit users, and others to advocate, engage, and champion transit initiatives.

As urbanist Brent Toderian says, “The truth about a city’s aspirations isn’t found in its vision. It’s found in its budget.” Let’s champion frequent, affordable, and accessible transit, making our city a beacon of sustainable urban living.

Our journey is only beginning, and with TAAG helping steer the ship, we need every hand on deck. Join us in leading the charge to redefine Guelph’s transit narrative.

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