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Who should pay for better service?

ENTRY #866: London wants more young people who graduate from our institutions of higher learning to settle down here. Young people say among the things that attracts them to a community is good public transit. So, is there a clue here to something city council might do?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 – London

When city council sets up one of its boards or commissions as a stand-alone business, should we be critical when it runs as one? That’s no longer just an academic question.

But council, in particular the so called business bunch of this one – the mayor and the rest of the Gang of Ate – often want it both ways. They want to be able to dictate exactly what should be done, especially at budget time, but they don’t want to hear when those orders end up costing more money.

The particular ‘strong recommendation’ at issue is extending London Transit service to the city’s sprawling industrial parks, mostly located near and along our eastern border.

Certainly a case can be made for full and frequent service, at least at peak hours, to such places as The Original Cakerie and Dr. Oetker in Innovation Park on Veterans Memorial Parkway between Hamilton Road and the 401. Both businesses hire lots of young people, many of them recent graduates from food programs at Fanshawe College.

Many of those graduates, like young people everywhere, can’t yet afford a reliable car. Public transit would be the perfect way to get back and forth to work. Unfortunately, London Transit does not service Innovation Park.

This is a source of much irritation on the part of officials at The Cakerie and Dr. Oetker, both of which often have entry jobs available. They have complained to city officials, to London Economic Development Corp., to London Transit and, of course, to the mayor and city council.

Mayor Joe, as he is wont to do from time to time, got royally annoyed a few months ago and ordered a number of the city’s boards and commissions to stop fooling around and cooperate on creating jobs. London Transit heard the message loud and clear. Last week, in an eight-page report to the London Transit Commission, the company’s general manager, Larry Ducharme, laid out their problem.

Essentially, it boils down to this: Buses aren’t free, they don’t run on air, nor do they run by themselves (I’m paraphrasing, although in private Mr. Ducharme often does make his points this way). So who will pay the cost of the buying the extra buses, paying for the diesel fuel to make them go and the drivers to steer them in the right direction?

And that is a very good question. A circular one, as we shall quickly see, but a good one nevertheless.

Compared to every other public transit system in Ontario, London Transit operates on a public shoestring. Taxpayers provide just 38 cents out of every $1 the public bus company spends, compared to the Ontario average of about 50 cents. City council’s operating orders to Mr. Ducharme and company are pretty clear: Run on what we give you and do a good job of it.

However, when London Transit runs buses all the way down Veterans Memorial Parkway to Hamilton Road and beyond, unless it gets enough passengers, it will lose money on each bus on the route. Who covers that cost? Well it’s either taxpayers, as represented by city council, or it’s the riders on other routes, many of whom are similarly sans own car.

City council members, in particular Dale Henderson, love to tell London Transit how to run its service. But when it comes to paying for service improvements, those folks have the shortest arms in the city.

Currently London Transit has three routes – 30 Newbold, 36 Airport Industrial and 37 Sovereign Road – which service industrial areas. None of them cover their full costs, although the 19-year-old 30 Newbold to the Wilton Grove industrial area comes closest, at 75 per cent. Other riders pay most of the cost of subsidizing those loses.

London’s number one desire at the moment is to retain its young people. Surveys suggest high on the list of things young people desire in a community is good public transit service, day and night. Young might say they see that as a signing bonus for staying, and in turn they will eventual begin to return it by settling down, starting families, buying homes, paying taxes.

So the answer to the question who will pay, is, ultimately, them. Meantime, though, it is city council that is supposed to be to see the long-term ramifications of these kinds of tough questions. An investment now by taxpayers could pay big dividends down the road.

Don’t blame London Transit. We told them to run like a business and they do. Instead, blame city council for not being able to figure out that running bus service to The Cakeries and Dr. Oetkers of this community so young people can get jobs is an investment in our future.

Lord love us, these people can be blockheaded sometimes.


# Business or not?Dean Sheppard 2013-06-04 02:29
Well said. If Council expects LTC to run like a business, then stop expecting to do non-business like things - like running money losing routes. Council can fix the problem easily - from the economic development fund or young people retention fund (call it what you will), contract LTC (or anyone)to specifically to operate those routes. You want a service? Pay for it.
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# Global citizenHarry Coumans 2013-06-04 03:13
I have lived and worked in many cities worldwide. In many of those, large city buses service the major areas while private operators have a licence to service others of their own choosing, generally with mini-buses. Adding a bit of free enterprise will be beneficial and alleviate the situation of under-serviced areas
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# RE: Who should pay for better service?bill brock 2013-06-04 03:42
When The Cakerie and Dr. Oetker came to town was the availability of transit key to their decision. Essential service for the hundreds that would come by transit. If so critical they could have located on major corridors like Dundas Street (McCormacks) or Highbury Ave.. The city wanted them where they made the deal. Transit was never an issue. Transit is not a taxi service it is for the masses. If the city is so quick to move buses off Dundas Street and affect 12,000 plus riders daily why would they attack the same LTC for not providing cheap service for a few people. Do you really believe young people starting out who have probably experienced part time work where transit wasn't available; dating where transit wasn't their choice are going to turn down these jobs because of no bus. Thousands of Londoners have less than ideal transit; they make do.
In the old days we had 23 million riders; no cost to city; no subsidies from province or feds. and 11 minute service seven days a week because 70% of the people used buses. The employment center of the city was along Dundas and Hamilton Rd.. Taxi service No!
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# RE: Who should pay for better service?bill brock 2013-06-04 03:55
Part 2. The city of London decided to spread out and build subdivisions ignoring designs conducive to good transportation corridors east and west; north and south.
Transit carries 23 million people today but look at the distances travelled to get ridership. If you monitor ridership the biggest attraction is the special arrangement with Western and Fanshawe. Today only about 12% use transit. The university has a private service to meet the needs of Kings and Brescia. What is the difference between School Boards using special buses and/ or vans to move students around and companies having their own buses to move their employees around. I guess you could solve the problem (if their really is one) by hiring only those that live in the east end or a specific area. One van does the trick>
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# Financial realitiesChipreader 2013-06-04 04:08
With unemployment running at 10%+ in London area (minimally 50% more for youth), the fact that not having transit avaiable will force young people to leave the area. Consider that at wages of $18/hr net $22K yr ($17K for $15/hr jobs) and ownership and operation of an auto for a young person costs $8-9K year (payments $2.4K; insurance $3.2K; fuel $1K and repair/upkeep $$1.5K), its a no brainer that youth HAVE to leave London if transit doesn't work for them.

I find it outrageous that LTC, the City, Fanshawe and Western offer/force students to pay for transit through their school fees and yet leave them stranded at the stop once they graduate.

There is lots that can be improved by the LTC -- but mostly its forward-looking management that realizes the small subsidies to keep routes to industrial areas payback in spades in employment, taxes and civic growth over the long term. Eventually, those routes will pay for themselves once a critical mass is achieved.

Ducharme and Gang of 8 -- stop acting like its YOUR company and remember its a public good.
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# RE: Who should pay for better service?Rod Morley 2013-06-04 04:25
This isn't an easy problem to fix because of the pro buisiness anti evnvironment dogma that the majority of the Council subscribes to.
You need to do everything you can to remove the stigma that only poor people use mass transit. I am sure that most people who live in Toronto and use mass transit make more than most Londoners do.
This City needs to do everything it can to get people on mass transit and it starts with them and a new mindset.
I have always said that In am sure that many European and Asian companies have passed on London because of its lack of respect it treats mass transit. We should be getting ready for for LRT not BRT.
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# Do the right thing?Jeff 2013-06-04 11:07
This is London City Council we're talking about here. When was the last time they made an intelligent, well-thought-ou t decision about anything?

I wonder how many councillors, especially those that sit on the London Transit Commission, have ridden a bus more than five times a year, if ever.

Yet these are the same clowns who think moving buses off Dundas Street is the smartest thing they can do, despite the fact that the LTC itself says it will have to add several more buses, plus the drivers for them, in order to cover for the altered routes. It also ignores the fact that riders will have to hike from Queens Ave to King St to make connections, in all weather, on narrow sideawalks of dubious quality, and with obstacles like sandwich boards and bar patios.

The bus strike killed at least one business and hurt many more, so when this move happens and downtown merchants suffer again, will they pay the cost of moving the buses back? Of course not, they'll want Council to "compensate" them instead.
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# to Chip Readerbus rider 2013-06-04 14:37
Transit does not make money. Let me say this again, transit does not make money. Therefore, every ride, especially Paratransit, is subsidized. It is a public service being run as tightly as possible which means, you get a middlin' service. Most routes DO NOT make money. Get it? BUT you can't isolate routes by which make money because it is a SYSTEM.
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# Finish the jobBetsy Odegaard 2013-06-04 17:28
So, the city buys and services land on the edge of the city in hopes of attracting business. Dr. Oetker and the Cakerie, for example, respond to the city’s offer (for which particular politicians celebrate and take credit) and open factories in Innovation Park. They hire young, entry-level employees who need public transit to get to their jobs—and the city refuses to provide bus service to the factories? What is different about subsidizing the servicing of land to encourage investment and subsidizing transportation for the work force? Do we want to send companies packing to more enlightened communities?
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# City Needs To Grow UpDave Taylor 2013-06-04 20:56
London council wants us to be a major player and to attract jobs. Time to grow up and offer 24 hour a day - 7 day a week transit.
My son paid $80+ for a bus pass. Many weekends, he would have to be at work at 6:00 am - downtown - not on the fringes. Dad had to get up and drive him to work.
I worked at a bar as a bouncer. On busy weekends, getting a cab is not difficult - it is impossible. People mill around downtown for an hour or more, waiting for a cab. They get in fights. They urinate in public places. They damage things.
The solution is 24 hour bus service. Would you deal with a business that met your needs only part of the time? Not likely. So, why should Londoners park their cars and use public transit? They would if it were available when they needed it.
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# 24 hour bus service?cynic 2013-06-05 02:18
Right Dave, better the drunks urinate in the buses and get in fights on buses? People don't take buses more because they like have the private quiet time driving gives. Look it up.
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# Sovereign Rd BusKathy Clee 2013-06-05 13:12
I work a split shift on Sovereign Rd, which means I report to and leave from work four times per day. There is NO TIME on the #37 Sovereign Rd bus schedule that is useful to me coming nor going.

This means that I take a regular neighbourhood bus as far out as I can, cross Veterans' Memorial parkway on foot, and walk across a field and along a roadway where there are no sidewalks (another BIG problem in this city), sharing that road with vehicles of every size and description.

Private vehicle owners don't pay the whole cost of operating their vehicles; the costs of building and maintaining roads is paid by taxes and I pay those taxes too.

When I was unemployed and looking for work I had to pass over many, many job listings because they stated that they were not on a bus route.

An improved public transit system would go a long way toward making this city more livable and attractive to live in. This is an easy one!
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