Some simple ideas on how we can achieve the City's goal of 100 rides per person per year by 2020 (or at least in my lifetime).
By Alasdair Rathbone
Published August 30, 2009
Imagine a Hamilton where, for the average family, the question wasn't "Whose car should be a take to dinner?" but rather "Do we really need to drive to the restaurant?"
Now imagine a Hamilton joined together with Light Rail, Bus Rapid Transit and much improved city bus service, with connections to the region and the world by electric commuter and high speed rail. Could this be the future in store for us?
I'm not going to lie: I think for the foreseeable future that the majority of households will own a car. But wouldn't it be nice if transit were enough of an option so that an average family make do with only one vehicle?
That's why a recent article in the Hamilton Spectator caught my attention. In it I found out about a visioning process being lead by the Hamilton Transit Users Group that (distilled to its basic premise) asks: "How can we increase transit usage in Hamilton?"
While I don't pretend to be a transit expert, I do have some simple ideas on how we can achieve the City's goal of 100 rides per person per year by 2020 (or at least in my lifetime).
2020 is a long time before anyone expects the full build-out of the city's planned BLAST rapid transit web, which will connect Waterdown, Dundas, Stoney Creek, Ancaster, John C. Munro Airport and many points in between. Yet we need to start implementing pre-rapid transit service on this core network as well as building the lines which have current Metrolinx commitments, as soon as possible.
Our goal by 2020 should be to have the A (Airport to Waterfront) and B (Dundas to Eastgate) Lines operating as Light Rail, and the other 3 lines to be operating 24/7 express buses with a minimum of 7.5 minutes headways in rush hour.
Potential Rapid Transit System - "BLAST" (Image Source: City of Hamilton)
The Presto Smart Transit Card system is expected to be rolled out in Hamilton next fall and will be used on almost every public transit system in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, with the notable exception of VIA Rail, TTC surface routes and some Toronto Subway stations.
This smart card system, which will likely replace all fare media except cash, will increase boarding speeds, and make using transit across the region simple by automatically calculating the lowest possible fare for a journey when the care is "tapped-in" on boarding.
Obviously this has huge potential benefits. The first key to successfully implementing the Presto card is switching to a proof of payment system. While the remaining cash users can use timed transfers for Proof, a scanner can check the cards. This could lead to much faster boarding with card users tapping in at any door, and cash users on rapid transit lines making their transaction off-board at ticket vending machines at stations, where debit and credit cards could also be used.
The second key to a successful implementation is making sure Presto is used, a trickier but not insurmountable task. One measure that could be taken is simply to shift the University-Pass system to Presto, and to aggressively expand this program attempting to reach all post-secondary campuses in the city. Not only will this increase usage during the school year, but also in the summer and in the future as the student (or ex-student) will now be a presto card owner.
This program could be paralleled with employee transit allowances paid on a Presto card. This would benefit both employers, as the city could offer a reduced parking requirement, and employees as they have the convenience of a Presto pass.
I would propose also another more radical measure: Every current taxpayer and all future tax payers in urban areas will have twenty-five dollars extra charged to their tax bill, one time only, to provide individuals with a Presto card loaded with the minimum twenty dollars. I would think if every household had a Presto card, they would not all sit there gathering dust.
While the HSR's BLAST system will form the backbone of Hamilton's transit system, it will be short of customers if regular buses do not extend its reach. We need a bus network that while not overlapping rapid transit routes provides intersecting and parallel feeder service.
However, a well-connected system that covers the city is not enough; it needs to be both frequent and fast to make it usable. The HSR should establish Grade A and Grade B frequency routes with 24/7 service and a 10 minute minimum rush hour headway for Grade A routes and daytime seven days a week service and a 15 minute minimum rush hour headway for Grade B routes. Not quite "a bus is always in sight" service but it's close enough for your average joe.
The HSR also needs to be proactive in increasing speeds through merging stops that are too close together, and implementing transit priority measures, such as transit priority at traffic lights, in transit bottlenecks, such as Concession and John Streets.
Even more simple than this, though, the HSR needs to negotiate with the Unions to move operator breaks to the ends of the routes so that users are not inordinately delayed by the driver's bladder!
While what I have written is by no means a comprehensive plan for transit, it is what I personally envision as part of the path forward for our city. But like it or lump it, don't let my comments be the only received by the Transit Users Group, so submit your comments at hamiltontug.com/vision, and look out for their upcoming public presentation in late October.