Okay, it’s been a little over a week and I think I can now comment on the changes made to the Guelph Transit system without resorting to knee-jerk epithets and gross indulgences in hyperbole. I’ve taken all the trips I’m likely to take in my day-to-day goings and comings around the city multiple times, and I can now confidently answer the question I declined to answer ten days ago, “How do you like the new bus schedules?”
Simply put: I Don’t!
Why should you care? Well, the vast majority of you probably shouldn’t, but since I intend writing not only to Guelph Transit, but to all of the city councilors and also both Guelph newspapers, this seemed like a good way to kill multiple angry birds with one stone. I’m writing this post and then sending the link to all of the above. But then again, maybe by the time you finish reading this you might care, just a little.
I suppose it would be less annoying if I could somehow see the logic in the changes that have been made; if I could understand why? Based on the promotion, “You’ll be seeing a lot more of us,” it all appears to be about buses coming and going every 15 minutes for part of the day; but personally, I fail to see how that is a great enough advantage over every 20 minutes, all day, to warrant all the other disruptions and inconveniences.
That is of course, unless the goal is not necessarily better service. Let’s look at a few examples from my week on the buses.
Most Overheard Conversation
Passenger: “Hey driver, you went past my stop!”
Driver: “I’m sorry sir but that stop no longer exists. The new one is up here.”
Passenger: “That’s ridiculous. Why would they do that?”
Driver: “I really couldn’t say sir.” [Rips transfer from pad and hands lower portion to passenger] “On the back of this transfer is a phone number you can call to express your complaint and seek some answers.”
Based on the four routes that I will need to travel, it appears that the number of bus stops has been cut by at least a third overall, possibly by as much as half. This does speed up the route but not my door-to-door experience. Saving 5 minutes on the bus trip doesn’t help if I have to take an extra 10 minutes to walk to the bus stop and back.
Limited Industrial Runs
My ride to work in the morning is a little faster I must admit. I arrive at work 10 minutes earlier, which should mean that with the 15 minute peak schedule I could actually catch a later bus than usual, giving me 15 more minutes to get ready, or even 15 minutes more sleep, and still get to work on time. The problem is while the majority of city buses are on the 15 minute peak schedule, the industrial buses are not! They run every half hour.
So, if I take the bus that’s 15 minutes later from my house, I have to wait 15 minutes for the “#21 Hanlon Industrial” bus at the Square, which will actually get me to work 10 minutes late instead of on time. The 15 minute schedule is of no advantage to me whatsoever.
On the other end of my shift is another interesting little quirk. To save money the ‘Industrial’ runs do not run all day. There are three 3-hour periods when there are no industrial buses, simply because there aren’t enough passengers at those times of day. I get that, I really do.
What I don’t get is the timing of the three hour breaks. Our shop is open from 8:30am till 5pm each day. Most days my supervisor is content to be the one to close the shop and let me leave around 4:30 pm. He’s a really decent guy that way. And it’s a good thing too since the last bus before the 3-hour break is at 4:59 pm according to the posted schedule.
Every once in a while however, a couple of times a month, he needs me to close the shop. This means that since we are open till 5pm I likely won’t catch that last bus. So on those occasions I have a 3-hour wait until the next bus drives by the shop, or I have a 3-kilometre hike (according to Google Maps) to get to the closest active bus stop at the corner of Clair & Gosling Gardens.
Have these people never heard of 9-5 jobs? Or does the fact the Guelph Transit office is only open till 4pm mean they figure we all knock off that early? I really don’t understand why the last bus before the break isn’t at 5:30 pm so people who work 9-5 can get home.
My Part-Time Job Situation
Last bus route story, I promise. I have a part-time job as technical director at one of the churches in the south end of the city; an area once commonly known as University Village. Under the old system my ride from home to the church was a little over 40 minutes with 1 transfer down at the square and a brief stop at Stone Rd. Mall. Under the new system I now have 1 transfer at the square, a 2nd transfer at the University, so I can stay on the same route, and that same brief stop at Stone Road Mall, resulting in an average travel time of 50-55 minutes; 10-15 minutes longer depending on the day.
I really don’t understand the need for the transfers at the University, just to stay on the same route! The transfers at the square make sense; I’m changing from one route to another. But at the University, to stay on Route 2A West Loop I have to switch to a different bus because the one I’m on will become 1B. But, even setting that aside with the detour to the UofG my ride is now 10-15 minutes longer to get to the same location. I can live with that I guess, but the route home from there really baffles me.
With the new ‘transfer anywhere’ policy, the best route home should be to take that same route 2A West Loop bus to the west end of the city and then transfer to the #20 Northwest Industrial run and then get off at a stop about a block from home near Willow West Mall. This would be similar to the old system where I took the “Perimeter Bus” to the West End Community Centre, transferred to #23 and got off at that same stop about a block from home.
The problem is, now there is only one little stretch of road that both of these new buses travel along, and there is no mutual bus stop anywhere along that stretch or even near it. In fact, the #20 bus does not and will not stop anywhere along that road. And staying on the 2A takes me nowhere near where I live. This means that going home from church requires going in the other direction on the 2B bus, transferring at the UofG, transferring again downtown and then taking the #11 bus to a stop close to my house.
Here’s the baffling bit. Riding the 2A West Loop bus to that aforementioned non-mutual stretch of road and walking the nearly 2km (Google maps again) to my house is 15-20 minutes faster than riding the other routes around to the stop less than 100 meters from my driveway!
Does this make sense to anyone?
The Next Bus
“Next Bus” is an Internet based service that uses real-time GPS data to predict the arrival times of buses at your selected bus stop. I loved the service! Many people didn’t, though I think that was largely due to not learning how to use it effectively. From my smartphone I would access Next Bus to avoiding waiting too long in the rain, getting to the bus stop mere moments before it arrived. I could even track multiple buses at once, helping me navigate out of the ordinary transfer points that got me to my destination faster. I consider it the best Innovation Guelph Transit ever implemented.
Since the change, however, I can’t trust it. The bus stop near my house only offers predictions for every other bus. The buses at the hour and half-hour register fine, but the extra every-15-minute runs never show on the web page. And the #21 Hanlon Industrial route has never registered at all. It’s been reading “No Current Prediction Available” since Jan. 1st.
Now I know that Guelph Transit doesn’t run ‘Next Bus’; but the system requires accurate up to date info from the local bus company and it would seem that Guelph Transit just isn’t providing it any longer.
A Final Thought
I could go on but I won’t. From talking to other passengers around town, most people seem to be facing frustrations much like mine. I’m sure there are a few people out there who like the new routes, but I have yet to meet any of them. Guelph Transit claims they will be tweaking the system to iron out the wrinkles but I question whether that’s going to be enough.
Roberta and I got rid of our car back in 2001. Though partially for financial reasons, the main thing for us was we couldn’t justify maintaining a vehicle when the transit system worked well enough, and riding our bicycles throughout the summer made more sense not just for the environment, but for our own health as well.
After 10 days of riding the new bus system I am starting to suspect that Guelph Transit’s main strategy for saving money going forward is giving me new reasons to go out and buy another car.
Like I said at the beginning, I don’t see 15-minute service at peak hours worth the hassle the new system creates. One of the transit workers answering questions downtown yesterday told my wife the old system was rated better than 90% efficient based on a survey of completed transfers downtown. She told her this new system is currently running at 40%. If I understand that correctly, it means that 60% of riders are not getting where they need to be, in order to transfer to the bus they need, to get them where they are going!
Being able to take a bus that doesn’t get you there more often is not an improvement. From my point of view, it seems that not much about this change can be called an improvement by any standard of measurement. I am truly beginning to suspect that improving service was not really the goal. It seems to me that re-jigging the entire system, except for the bus going to the Transit Offices of course, would be a great way to hide the fact that, in reality, service has been severely cut back in order to cut costs. I further suspect that they are hoping that in all the confusion of the new routes, and with the smokescreen of 15 minutes service, no one will notice that we aren’t really getting anywhere faster or more efficiently than before. What we’re really getting is shafted; lesser service to reduce costs while at the same time trying to convince us it’s a step forward.
Conspiracy theory? Maybe. But can anyone give me a better explanation?
Till next time…