“‘Mr. Mayor, get those empty buses of our roads!

’ Stouffville’s York Regional Transit Ridership plummets 14% since April service reduction “Readers Write” letter, accepted for January 2013 issue of Stouffville Free Press Arnold Neufeldt-Fast Stouffville, ON “Mr. Mayor, get those empty buses off our roads!” This was the message the Mayor and Council heard from some residents last year. Consequently Council thought it prudent to accept York Region Transit’s proposal to merge the two YRT bus routes (15 and 9) serving our town, and reduce the frequency of service. The new plan was implemented on April 22, 2012. The YRT’s stated goal was to match service with demand and to eliminate the need to transfer (YRT 2012 Annual Service Plan: Proposed Initiatives, August 2011, slide 30). The Region has now published three months of ridership data, and the results may be surprising: our buses are emptier than last year! Ridership on the merged route no. 9 for July, August and September has plummeted 14% compared to 2011 (see summary: http://bit.ly/Rl2BDF) The popular narrative is that public transit (other than GO-service) does not work for Stouffville and is a waste of taxpayer dollars. The reality is a little different. The YRT’s Stouffville routes experienced strong annual growth until the service cuts of this year. Looking at July, August and September, there were 18% more riders in 2011 than 2010, and 11% more in 2010 than 2009. In each of those years, we significantly outpaced YRT ridership growth as a whole (see link above). Given our population growth this is not surprising. Statistics Canada data released in October showed that urban Stouffville experienced 100.5% growth from 2006 to 2011, i.e., from 12,411 to 24,886 residents, or an average of 2,495 new neighbours per year—all in housing designed to be transit supportable. Yet suddenly in 2012 Stouffville loses significant transit support with no concerns raised by Council. Until recently, Route 15 circulated east and west and gathered residents along Main St. and Hoover Park. Route 9 travelled south and north, and whisked residents as far north as Millard down Ninth Line to the Markham-Stouffville Hospital transit hub in 15 minutes. (From there, e.g., it’s an easy bus ride to the Richmond Hill Centre and even on to Pearson Airport!). On the new merged route it takes 56 minutes and one transfer to get to the hospital hub from Millard and Ninth, and frequency has been reduced to 42 minutes. In effect, the route is useless for those 450 households within 500 metres walking distance of that bus stop. And further 100 new homes within 500 metres of that stop will be occupied in the coming year. The Region’s transit policy objective in its Official Plan is “to provide transit service that is convenient and accessible to all residents and workers of York Region,” and specifically, “to provide transit service so that the distance to a transit stop in the Urban Area is within 500 metres of 90% of residents, and within 200 metres of 50% of residents.”

In 2012, the YRT backed away from these objectives for Stouffville--without a single objection from Council. Over 1000 Stouffville households north of Main Street were and are more than 500 metres away from the YRT route (I actually measured and counted! See Town’s Residential Subdivision / Condominium Activity Map, July 2012). Another cluster of 300 homes around Reevesway and Joseph Todd, for example, are also more than 500 metres from the route. Combined, these households comprise 10% of all households in Whitchurch-Stouffville--let alone the urban area. Yes, our buses are subsidized through our municipal taxes; but the Region’s goal is to reduce automobile dependency—an addiction which costs tax-payers far more than any transit subsidy. A large portion of municipal budgets are dedicated to ensure that a sea of vehicles can travel south and every morning and back again in the evening. While development charges pay for some of that road work, our town is still governed by a car-centric vision (for example, we spend more per capita on winter road service than on library--and virtually no town in Ontario goes that far! -- See BMA Municipal Study, pp. 107 and 152). “Mr. Mayor, get those single-occupancy cars off our roads!”—that should be our mantra! Our Town’s Official Plan states that it “shall encourage the creation of a regional transit system which will link the Community of Stouffville with other communities in the Region, and which will also provide internal service within the Community itself.” The Mayor and Council think they have done this. If you are like me, and think more could be done to meet that goal in 2013, send an email to MayorAndCouncil@townofws.ca; or better, hop on the bus to the municipal offices and make the point in person. Arnold Neufeldt-Fast Stouffville

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