Regional Municipality of Waterloo, Ontario
Developing a regional bus system that increases transit ridership
The Regional Municipality of Waterloo's new regional transit system provides a seamless network and fare structure across three cities, including specialized transit service to three rural communities. The Grand River Transit (GRT) system has increased ridership in the rby four per cent in its first year of operation. By decreasing automobile use, the system has reduced vehicle air pollutiogreenhouse gas emissions and energy use — critical steps toward fostering a sustainable community. GRT conventiontransit was launched on January 1, 2000, followed by the formation of GRT MobilityPLUS (specialized transit) on Janua1, 2001.
Waterloo region is a community of 450,000 spread over an area of 1,382 square kilometres in southwestern Ontario. The regional government of Waterloo is made up of three municipalities: Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo. Prior to January 2000, the area had two conventional municipal transit organizations, Kitchener Transit and Cambridge Transit. Cambridge Transit included a service for people with disabilities in that city, while Kitchener and Waterloo used a separate service for these clients. Two other services provided medical and senior transportation in the rural communities of Wellesley, Woolwich and Wilmot. A private carrier provided intercity transportation between Kitchener and Cambridge.
In 1997, the Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) issued briefing papers that recommended changes to how communities manage their transportation systems. TAC suggested that in order to make public transit more efficient, municipal governments should focus their infrastructure development to better accommodate buses rather than focus on the needs of automobiles.
By the end of 2000, one year after GRT launched its conventional service, amalgamation led to:
- a four per cent ridership increase on the new transit service (360,000 additional trips);
- a 12 per cent ridership increase in the Cambridge service area alone, or 141,000 more trips than in the previous year. In part, this is because customers in the Cambridge area made more than one third of these trips using the 60-minute transfer fare, which GRT expanded to include Cambridge. The 60-minute transfer system allows riders to reach their destination and get back onto the bus within 60 minutes
- without paying an additional fare;
- the addition of three routes in areas that previously had no service, including two routes that link Cambridge and Kitchener. These services would not have been possible under the previous transit structure because of provincial legislative and licensing restrictions;
- improved mobility for those who rely solely on public transportation; and
- increased safety in the area by encouraging a mode of transportation that is safer than automobile travel. Eventually, the region expects that increased transit ridership will lead to a decrease in spending on road infrastructure by avoiding the costs associated with road system expansion, such as the widening of roads and the construction and design of new roadways.
- The region's transitional marketing plan was critical to acceptance of the new transit service. It ensured that both transit staff and riders were included in all changes. It created a 'feel good' attitude about the transition by reassuring staff and riders that the region would not only maintain its standard of service, but also improve upon it. In addition, it educated citizens about the value of public transit, which likely resulted in increased ridership.
- GRT's establishment of a standard fare structure helped to maintain existing customers and attract new customers. Its decision to broaden the location of sales distribution centres resulted in higher ticket sales.
- The region's establishment of specialist working teams to research, develop and recommend implementation plans for given tasks was very helpful to the process. For example, human resources representatives from the cities and the region spearheaded transition issues such as health and safety, labour relations, benefits and salary administration.
- The region's employee newsletter served as an open forum while the transition process took place. It kept employees informed about transitional issues that might affect their future, which led to good morale among transit staff. This is especially important for front line workers who often deal with hundreds of customers every day.
- If it had the project to do over again, the region would include a dispute-resolution mechanism agreed to by all parties in advance. The region's failure to do so led to delays in transferring assets to the region. For example, the Transportation Centre building in Kitchener accommodated the city's parks and recreation department, which made division of assets contentious at times.
- The transition took well under two years to complete. The region believes that allowing a longer transition phase would have created uncertainty about the project. Therefore, this tight time frame was an important aspect of the project's success.