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The Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury is nearing the "critical mass" - a population of 30,000, large enough to support a public transit system, according to consultants. The need for public transit has been identified by Town Council, and by residents, who have seen a steady shift westward of retails outlets and services in the past few years.
The need is greatest, says consultant Wally Beck, vice president of HDR/iTRANS, among Seniors, students, families without a second vehicle, and the disabled. Beck was retained by the Town to carry out a Transit feasibility study, and on January 19, presented his findings at a public Open House at the Bradford Public Library.
Beck was asked to quantify the need for service, and map out how the municipality could ease its entry into the provision of public transit - "What's it going to look like, and basically... what it would cost." He conducted a demand analysis, looking not only at ridership in comparable cities with GO stations, but also surveying transit needs of the community. He found that the top priority was access to businesses in the west end of Bradford; a close second was access to the GO Train station.
Beck has proposed a combination of options to address community needs - not full-scale city buses, which can cost over $530,000 each, but smaller, cheaper "Community buses", combined with the use of shared taxis. Riders would book a taxi trip in advance and share the cost - ideal for commuters heading to the GO station, and rural residents coming into town. With 5 to 6 riders at a time, the cost would be "very low," Beck said - and the Town could negotiate a small discount on the GO trip, for users of the system.
The consultant proposes that the Community buses follow fixed routes winding through residential neighbourhoods, to ensure that 90% of Bradford residents are within 400 metres of a route. The proposal is designed to maximize ridership - but would lengthen the time it takes to go from one end of Town to the other. "It's not a direct route," Beck said. "That's not what it's about. It's not designed to get people to work. It's not for people in a rush." Transit would be a public-private partnership - the buses owned by the Town, but operated and maintained by a private contractor.
Beck estimated it would cost the Town $400,000 for 2 buses, $50,000 to build 100 bus stops, plus the cost of operation. Offset by fares and gas tax revenues, he estimated the net operating cost of the system as $141,229 in Year One, increasing as the Town adds riders, routes and potentially a 3rd bus. "The numbers are there. People will ride it," Beck said, but there is a need to "start small."
One resident asked, "What's the timeline for me actually getting on a bus?" Shared taxi service is "something that can be done fairly quickly," but it takes time to procure buses, even if Council immediately endorses the recommendations, Beck said. "Realistically, we have to do some negotiating. Realistically, we're looking at this fall as the earliest."
"There is no better time to start a transit system," Beck noted. "This is the time to do it... Right now, 2 cents out of every litre of gas that is sold in Ontario is a dedicated gas tax for transit." That means that 2 cents of every litre of gas sold in Bradford goes elsewhere - 90% to support Toronto transit. "So, how would you like to get some of that back? For every dollar you put in (to transit), you're going to get 75 cents back."
The transit study can be viewed online at www.townofbwg.com. The Town is looking for feedback. Contact Director of Engineering, Deb Korolnek, at 905-778-2055, ext. 2207, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. "Your input is important," Korolnek said.See Next Story
Wally Beck, of HDR Inc., presented an update on the ongoing Transit Feasibility Study to Bradford West Gwillimbury Council, on October 18. Beck has met with focus groups, and representatives of the business community, service providers and the general public, to try to answer a number of basic questions: What are the Town's transit needs? What are the feasible options? How should the Town deal with specialized transit needs? And what are the costs?
Noting that the town of Bradford is serviced by GO Transit, linking Barrie and the City of Toronto, he acknowledged that challenges are posed by the location of the GO Station "well in excess of reasonable walking distances," the shift of businesses to the west end of Town, and travel patterns within the Town. The study found that students and seniors are hardest hit by the lack of public transit, and surprisingly, that businesses were also concerned, from an employee-retention standpoint.
The demand was clearly there - but Beck also had a warning. It takes years, he said, to build up ridership to a level that it can effectively offset the cost of operating the system - a net cost that can average $5 per capita, at the best of times. "Transit availability is a quality of life issue," he told Councillors - but also a financial issue. He urged caution, "a kind of 'walk before you run' approach... driven by budget."
The study will now look at possible routes and service levels; identify infrastructure needs (such as bus drop-offs); look at business models - private or public ownership, or "something in-between"; and come up with a 5-year financial plan, before a final report comes back to Council, before the end of the year. "At the end of the day, you'll have all the information you need to make a decision," Beck said - pointing out that there is gas tax money available, to municipalities that offer public transit.
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