November 22nd, 2017

Return to former transit system will be welcomed


By Medicine Hat News Opinon on November 10, 2017.

In frigid and snowy weather transit users could be seen this week bundled up and waiting at many bus stops without any shelter from the elements.

For many Nov. 27 can’t come soon enough for a return to the original transit system.

One senior told the News this week she has simply stopped using transit in the last month because of cold weather and no place to shelter while waiting to transfer to a different route.

The decision to scrap the drastically reduced transit service, revealed publicly on Aug. 10 and instituted Sept. 5, had in many transit users tearful about delays getting to jobs or not being able to get to jobs at all because the service did not run when and/or where it was needed.

One of the curious aspects of the new system was that there had clearly been little or no consultation with those who regularly use public transit. There was a consultant report and council was told it was an “enhanced” system but passengers said they were never asked for an opinion about possible changes.

If they had been consulted they would have been able to identify key issues before any changes were introduced and money spent.

With that in mind it is particularly interesting that attendees at the mayor’s breakfast this week were asked whether any of them would have taken the bus to the event if it had been free of charge or if they’d been offered $5 to do so. Apparently very few hands went up.

That would be no surprise at all.

That question put to that audience would be a little like going to the Champion Centre on North Railway Street, where many homeless gather each morning, and asking them if they felt there was any point in having an annual mayor’s breakfast and whether it was worth paying to attend. It would be hard to find any hands going up. They would not see a benefit and certainly would not have the money to buy a ticket.

Does that mean there is no benefit to many people in Medicine Hat? Of course not. It is just a different demographic and it puts into focus the need to ask the people most affected.

It also takes time to change people’s habits. If you are used to having two vehicles in the family and driving everywhere, you would need to be persuaded to manage with one vehicle and ride transit instead. One of the ways to coax people in that direction is giving them a transit system that they can depend on for the long haul. They would need to know there will not be route changes and bus stops removed that will see them having to buy another vehicle again. It also needs to be a convenient and dependable service that will persuade seniors to perhaps give up driving, before they are given no option, because they have an alternative.

While transit users are counting the days to Nov. 27 and a return to a central terminal where there are heated waiting rooms and many of the bus stops along routes have bus shelters for protection from inclement weather, there are still some unanswered questions.

The changes to transit were sold as an “enhancement” to council even though it clearly was not. It also strayed significantly from the city’s 2012 municipal development plan that specifies bus stops be within a 400-metre walking distance with shorter distances encouraged for high density residential areas.

(Gillian Slade is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to http://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions or call her at 403-528-8635.)


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