Evolving Public Transit
More than two years after ridership on public transit collapsed, we’ve all become accustomed to seeing empty buses driving up and down our streets. At first this wasn’t as concerning, given cheap gas prices and uncertainty about when things would get back to normal. Yet now, with the price of oil sky high, changes are clearly needed.
The tramway is the pillar of STO’s future plans, but it likely won’t be ready for many years, with current schedules for having it operational within a decade already hitting obstacles. Various levels of government are having trouble aligning their visions for what the project should look like, and to committing the necessary funding. So we’ll be looking at a service based on buses for many years to come.
An interesting experiment in public transport has been taking place in Buckingham. There, STO has been paying taxi drivers to fill the roles of bus drivers, having cabs pick people up and drop them off at designated stops around the neighbourhood for the same fare as a normal bus. This is both creative and practical, as there isn’t much of a bus culture in Buckingham, and hence generally low ridership. Still, a portion of the population could greatly benefit from access to public transport, many of whom are financially vulnerable. By offering reliable options for public transit, more people will give it a try, moving the community away from an almost complete reliance on private vehicles.
There are certainly a variety of options between 3 to 4 person taxis and the enormous, mostly empty buses we see plying the streets of Aylmer. Minibuses with a maximum capacity of 10 to 15 people would be perfect for neighbourhoods like Lucerne, currently serviced by bus line number 52 and which rarely has more than a few passengers. This would also allow STO to offer more frequent service in that neighbourhood. The more reliable and convenient options for public transit become, the more people will use them. As ridership increases, so too could the size of the buses servicing a route.
Given the price of gas and the increasing affordability and capacity of batteries, it’s also only a matter of time until we see bus fleets made up largely of electric vehicles. Buses lend themselves well to electric options, because they have lots of room for multiple battery cells. Hopefully innovative companies will focus their efforts on electric buses soon. It’s depressing to see how many public dollars are literally being burned to cover the gas keeping empty buses roaming our neighbourhoods. In the National Capital Region especially, it’s unlikely that ridership will get back to pre-pandemic levels for many years, as major employers like the federal government are quite open to telework, largely from a cost-savings perspective to reduce office space.
The bottom line is that public transit needs to evolve, and we can’t wait a decade or more for tram services to be the only solution. Transportation options need to have everyone’s best interests at heart, both those of riders and the taxpayers who are footing the bill.