As Vince explained in his last post, things have been rough for us here at DWmBM. Vincent was a bit generous in proposing that I was “busy saving the world,” but he was right about the busy…in the sense of moving to a new university (McGill) in a new city (Montreal). With these distractions of newness, I did not do so well at composing a new blog post. Alas, one advantage of the passage of time is that it creates things to write about. Consistent with that theme, this post is a collection of little posts – a litter of postlets, if you will – that bring us up to date on some active dossiers.
1) The situation with Hamilton
In August, it seemed that we found a nerve that was waiting to be Hammered. We wrote posts on the Niagara-Hamilton disconnect and the lack of connectivity around Hamilton. These posts prompted a bit of reader response on the site and much more on twitter.
Accordingly, the discussion stimulated a request from a reader, that we make “a mock-up of a Hamilton regional/rapid transit map showing some of the connections we’ve been talking about.” With real rapid transit coming to Hamilton, as well as some folks dreaming about a more epic BLAST of improvements, it is useful to think about what these network changes would mean for intercity transit. Moreover, there will be provincial and municipal elections in 2018, and my suspicion is that at least a few candidates will pull out their napkins and crayons in order to propose some tempting but destructive campaign material.
(Two issues we know well – the Scarborough Subway Extension in 2013 and “Smart Track” in 2014 – are Ontario’s poster children of campaign-based transit planning that was successful in winning elections and disastrous for transit riders. If there’s anything we can predict in 2018, it’s an outbreak of this plague beyond the borders of Toronto.)
As fate would have it, we have not had the time to create that map. It is possible that the stars will align and we pull this off prior to the start of serious campaigning season, but odds are that we will not. For that purpose, we will gladly post maps and analysis about the connections of regional and rapid transit in the Hamilton area. The only stipulations:
a) that guest bloggers stick to plans that have been proposed by someone else (we are not requesting new fantasy maps) and
b) that the analysis not be a version of “every problem will be solved by the Niagara GO train stopping in Hamilton” (be that in 2025 or on weekends next summer).
We are happy to announce that the “Contact us” link actually works. If you are interested in a platform to share some rational regional rapid transit analysis, DWmBM might just be the form for your plat!
2) Speaking of Hamilton-Niagara…
In September, GO transit made an important change to the #12 bus, adding service between St. Catharines and Burlington – the “12C” – through 9 additional runs. Given that St. Catharines and Burlington are the busiest stops on the route (from my observation), this is a positive move that brings us closer to matching ridership to service. Unfortunately, there is at least one major missed opportunity with this arrangement: it is the does the opposite of complementing the transit network in the Niagara Region.
Most of the day, Mon-Sat, GO #12 and Niagara Region Transit #40/45 buses both operate Niagara Falls -> Niagara College -> St. Catharines’ Fairview Mall, within 2 and 20 minutes of each other. Meanwhile, the new 12C buses, which could effectively improve service to parts of Niagara Falls by connecting with the #40/45, force riders to wait 18-44 minutes to make the connection.
The extent to which this service was added as a fully planned disconnect brings pain to my forehead. Let me say this again, for the umpteenth time: the biggest short-term improvement to transit mobility in and around Niagara will not come in the form of a train; it will come in the form of rational use of the resources we already have.
3) Montreal to Belleville: You Can’t Get There From Here
Until I tried to make the trip, I was pretty sure that a rider could take a bus between Montreal and Belleville. In an experience that was emblematic of bus travel in North America, it seems these two cities (one biggish and the other one giant) really are disconnected. To add salt to the wound, rideshares seem rare and unlikely too, likely because there is not a culture of public ridesharing among the Bellevillians, Trentonites, Cobourgers and Port Hopists traveling to/from Montreal.
“No problem!” you say, “VIA connects those places.” And indeed it does. The thing is, VIA is a pricey option for folks who plan on my timeline. Typically, I book my Montreal-Toronto trip a few days in advance on either the bus or a rideshare and pay around $80 return. To book my return Montreal-Belleville trip on VIA a few days in advance (about 60% of the distance to Toronto), the cost was $160.
I remain incredulous that bus travel is impossible, but it certainly does look prohibitively inconvenient. At some point I expect to do some more serious research on this topic to more confidently rule out the possibility of connection. Alternatively, I might be in a position to describe the asinine schedule & route that would make this trip possible.
4) Megabus makes a map
To its credit, Megabus improved its website last summer. With this upgrade, the presentation changed from “basically no map” to “the bare minimum standards of a map.”
On the previous Megabus website, there was what appeared to be a hand drawing of the main trunk of Megabus’ routes from Montreal, to Toronto, and then through Niagara to large US cities. In the current iteration of the map, it is now possible to visually see the extent of the Megabus “network.” The thing with Megabus is that it seems to deny that it has a network. Instead of placing lines on the map, the user picks a departure point and clicks to see the possible destinations, according to those accessible on a one-seat ride.
Planning to travel from Niagara Falls to Kingston or Montreal? “Nope, you can’t get there from here!” says the Megabus website (you can; you transfer in Toronto).
Kitchener to Welland, Port Colborne or Fort Erie? “Nope.” (you can; transfer in St. Catharines – although I don’t want to romanticize this possibility: there are only 2 buses/week from Kitchener to St. Catharines during the university school year and sometimes the connections are downright ugly).
Even though it is a small step away from mediocrity, we applaud Megabus’ improvement. Folks with a bit of savvy to them can even figure out how to make trips with connections by doing so in a two-phase process. Considering that the staff at the Niagara Falls bus terminal were able to give advice on itineraries with connections 20 years ago (and probably well before that), we should probably not pop any champagne at the change. But hey, we are bus riders, given the overall bleakness of a lot of things, we will take what we can get!