Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Built Form" and Transit

As you may have heard, Pelham Council recently discontinued the transit service that we had contracted with Welland Transit for one year. While we said no to that particular service, we also asked staff to recommend alternatives at Council’s July meeting.

The total cost of the service for 2008/09 was budgeted at $90,000, with the Town’s share being approximately $60,000. The other revenue was derived from Gas Tax, rider fares, and investments from Brock and Niagara College Student’s Unions.

In the spring of 2008, Council decided not to conduct an expensive survey that would supply the Town with the views of you and other residents regarding the need for transit. Instead, we invested those dollars into “rubber on the road” and pledged to gauge support that way.

So, on June 1st of this year, staff reported that the “Pelham Link” averaged 10.2 riders per day. Based on ridership and expecting an increase in costs in September – to $67,000 per year – staff recommended that the service be discontinued.

So, do we know why the transit test fell short?

Some said that the bus wasn’t frequent or convenient enough. While Pelham staff and Welland Transit staff attempted to give residents the best system with the amount of funding available, perhaps it could have been better.

But, perhaps there is a more profound reason.

You see, last week I had the honour of being one of the Region’s representatives at the 2009 Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference.

I attended several presentations about transportation and transit from all parts of the country. These presentations showed that while convenience and the quality of service are important elements for successful transit, the foundation lies in the “built form” of the community.

What does that mean? Built form is how a community actually exists “on the ground” and functions.

In this case, the theory states that the more dense a community – the higher the level of residential homes/units and jobs per acre – the greater the ability and willingness to use public transit.

While that’s intuitive, I had never heard it stated with so much authority nor seen it engrained in transportation policy before.

But, changing the built form of a community can take years. It is guided largely by the Official Plan and other planning rules.

In the meantime, I look forward to examining short- and medium-terms options for Pelham Transit when Staff presents recommendations to Council in July.