Guelph Transit - Expensive & Decrepit

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Written by Pegleess Barrios

An important day is approaching.

Guelph Transit’s “Customer Service Survey” is being released on January 15, and will be open to transit users’ participation until January 30. This survey is an opportunity for transit users in the City of Guelph to tell transit their complaints and suggestions for improvement.

Guelph transit is among the 20 most expensive public transit systems in the world, according to rates posted in Business Insider. But why is it so expensive? The cost of public transit in Guelph is comparable to public transportation networks in Munich, Helsinki, Amsterdam, and Frankfurt, all systems with reputations for being clean, well-established, and efficient – words that seem to be a stretch of a description of Guelph public transit.

Commuters in Guelph also pay more per trip than public transit users in Montreal, where the base service frequency is estimated at 8 minutes. Eight minutes. Montreal commuters pay less than Guelph commuters, and wait less than half as long as our minimum 20 minute wait.

Additionally, Montreal public transportation vehicles are equipped with technology that calls out bus stops and displays them on an easily visible LCD screen within the vehicle, making it much easier for commuters to know when to get off the bus than the standard Guelph practice of either asking the bus driver to announce a specific stop, or praying that the windows will someday be clean enough to see the street signs.

And as Guelph commuters know, there is never even any guarantee that they will be able to get on a bus. Buses are often full at the times that most university classes are scheduled, leaving hundreds of students behind every day. Each student missing that bus to class is losing not only their money, but a significant part of their learning experience – research has shown that attendance is more highly correlated with academic performance than hours spent studying. Students across Guelph are losing that chance at their ideal GPA, all thanks to the underfunded and ignored Guelph Transit.

Additionally, bus routes have a significant impact on another issue that comes around this time of year: rental housing prices. Houses near efficient bus routes – such as the 50, 58 or 56 - are much more expensive, leaving the cheaper housing options open only to students who can already afford a car – a minority group at best. The current transportation system also makes it nearly impossible for full-time students to live in the North end of Guelph. The bus routes there are so indirect that it can easily take 45 minutes to an hour of bussing for a student to commute a distance to the university that would take 10 minutes in a car.

Further problems are commonly caused by the service Guelph Transit purchased in 2007, NextBus. According to the service’s website, “NextBus uses Global Position Satellite (GPS) technology and advanced computer modeling to track buses and streetcars on their routes. Taking into account the actual position of the transit vehicles, their intended stops, and the typical traffic patterns, NextBus estimates the bus arrivals with a high degree of accuracy. This estimate is updated constantly as the vehicles are tracked.” NextBus promises a margin of error of less than one minute on waiting times of five minutes or less, or two minutes on a wait time of 10 minutes or more. “Riders can determine exactly when to leave home or the office in order to meet the bus,” NextBus declares, “virtually eliminating waiting time.”

Actual users of Guelph transit beg to differ. A commuter on the 2A said, “Half the time it’s bang on, half the time it doesn’t even show up on the system or it’s so off the NextBus prediction that you might as well crack out a lawn chair.” Local Affairs Commissioner Brittany Skelton noted, “It works fine for me on weekdays, but sometimes it doesn’t even show up on weekends.” Another transit user added, “Sometimes it jumps from 10 minutes to 3 minutes, and then you have to run!”

Several commuters also expressed disbelief at the claim that the buses were being GPS tracked. “I think they just upload the schedule to that website.” Another commuter said when interviewed, “I don’t believe the city would care to spend their money on a service like that, helping the poor students.”

A trial run, observing Route 7 from 11am to 1pm on a Monday – which any seasoned Guelph Transit user will know is not the busiest time on the route – proved NextBus to be inaccurate in every prediction, often by a margin of 10 minutes or more. The vast majority of bus stops in Guelph have no actual shelter to protect patiently waiting commuters from the elements, and in winter weather like the Extreme Cold Warning experienced last week, just 5 minutes outside could cause frostbite on exposed skin – rendering these inaccuracies a physically dangerous hazard to commuters.

These complaints are not even anything new – another reporter on this very same website published an article describing NextBus’ inaccuracies back in 2007. These problems have now been left unheeded for eight years.

A Guelph Transit employee, who wished to remain anonymous, gave a more thorough explanation of the faults in the NextBus system.

“We don’t have the money to put a GPS on every bus,” the employee said, “so sometimes what happens is that a bus goes down, and another is sent out, but the only one being tracked is the one that’s sitting there, waiting for repairs. So when you check the system, it’s going to tell you there’s 88 minutes, 1 hour until the next bus, although one is already headed your way. And sometimes we even send an extra bus, like the 8 from downtown to the mall, to deal with the extra people who couldn’t get on. Those aren’t being tracked. NextBus isn’t going to know that.” The employee expressed distrust in the system being run by a third party company outside of Guelph. “The system is trying to track thousands of busses across Ontario, and so one bus getting missed doesn’t matter to them. Plus sometimes, there are so many users on the website at once that it crashes and you can’t see any busses for a while. Those kind of things really boggle up the system.”

And perhaps in a testament to the inefficacy of Guelph Transit’s communication systems and online outreach programs, even more Guelph Transit commuters who were interviewed were unaware of the existence of NextBus.

Rumours have been circulating that Mayor Cam Guthrie is planning to significantly cut funding for Guelph Transit, despite its already poor performance, inefficient routes, and decrepit system. Cuts like this once again brings up the question, who does the City of Guelph work for? In October, Mayor Guthrie declared on his website that, “Public transit, the arts, cultural events, environmental initiatives, and sustainable planning are luxuries, investments desired by the leftie elites.”

By Mayor Guthrie’s statement, he is currently reigning over 200,000 leftie elites – the estimated amount of public transit users in Guelph.

But these are not elites, these are students.

Students, most of whom are live significantly below the poverty line and won’t be able to afford anything but this terrible excuse of a public transportation system for years after graduation thanks to merciless tuition prices and heavy student debt.

Things need to improve, now.

And now is our chance to tell Guelph Transit what we need, and where they can improve. The Customer Service Survey will be released online January 15, and available at bus stations to fill out in person. Complaints to Guelph Transit can also always be directed to their customer service line, 519-822-1811 or [email protected]

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