We held our third and final installment of Conversations with Christopher Hume and Guests on September 26, 2013.
This salon dinner event was titled High Time for Transit and focused on the future of mass transit in Hamilton. Key discussion themes included increasing ridership, transit branding, regional harmonization of public transit systems, complete streets and governance models in public transit.
In addition to audio recordings from the event, this post includes a follow up article published in The Hamilton Spectator.
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Dr. Alex Bitterman, Rochester Institute of Technology
Don Hull, Transportation, City of Hamilton
Andrew Kuzyk, Entro Communications
Mary Proc, GO Transit
Christopher Hume’s Closing Remarks
They dream of a future where transit rules, cars are “utilitarian devices” borrowed when needed and transit is governed without municipal borders.
But the participants at an urban renewal discussion in Hamilton on Thursday are all too aware that public transit suffers from an image problem.
“The public doesn’t see transit as luxurious, enjoyable or exciting or fun. It’s often seen as a last resort or a necessary evil,” said Rochester Institute of Technology professor Alex Bitterman, who studies transit branding.
The city’s transportation director, Don Hull, said Hamilton “is among many North American cities struggling to grow transit ridership.”
The city is on par with its peers in transit use, he said, and has its sights set on enhancing service and drawing more users onto buses.
The challenges are many, including urban sprawl, a lack of congestion, plenty of parking and a lack of dedicated lanes or signal priority for transit vehicles.
But the city now has the newest vehicle fleet in the country and is focused on doing the “simple stuff” that makes riding transit enjoyable.
Toronto Star urban affairs columnist Christopher Hume, who hosted the third in a series of the urban salon dinners organized by Renew Hamilton, says the view of transit has long been skewed.
“You never hear people complain about the cost of repairing the Gardiner or paving the QEW but people are complaining about the cost of the TTC all the time. It’s as if the cost of driving on the roads is free,” said Hume, who has hosted past discussions about the arts and culture in the city.
“The key to going forward is to address our abstract addiction to the car. We have to get people out of cars. The car is not working and there is no better example of that than the QEW between Hamilton and Toronto.”
But Hume says a shift is apparent: cars are increasingly being seen among young people as “utilitarian devices rather than expressions of oneself.”
Bitterman agreed, adding that he sees a future 25 years from now in which drivers buy a share in a car brand that gives them access to a fleet of vehicles.
Mary Proc, GO Transit’s vice-president of customer service, says the organization focused on reinventing its image five years ago when its poor on-time record and sagging customer satisfaction rates were getting headlines. The system now has an 82 per cent customer satisfaction rate and runs on time 95 to 97 per cent of the time, she said, after GO focused on becoming “easy” for riders.
“That was the lens through which we looked at everything. Are our stations easy to find, is parking easy to get, are our schedules easy to read?”
GO instituted a passenger charter and performance indicators and in five years has improved its customer satisfaction from 58 per cent to 82 per cent. The real challenge now is creating capacity ahead of “spiralling ridership growth,” said Proc.
Hull says the biggest political obstacle to effective transit and planning is municipal borders. He dreams of a seamless system run at the provincial level.
“We need to be less parochial and more unified in working together,” he said.
Ultimately, HSR ridership will only grow if service frequency increases, density of core development intensifies and the city continues to attract jobs, said Hull.
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