By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner
Better bang for your Barrie Transit bucks is on the horizon.
But the first noticeable step will be the May 1 cash fare hike, to $3 from $2.85, along with a 3% increase in bus passes.
“The fare increase we have coming up, part of that is certainly because there is significant change in transit coming in August,” said city transit manager George Kaveckas, noting city council approved spending $1.2 million in service expansion this year.
Barrie’s new bus system will serve multiple transit hubs, at major destinations, in different parts of the city. Routes will double up on major roads, so there will be 15-minute service on many of Barrie’s busiest streets, instead of the 30-minute service today.
The hubs will be at Georgian Mall, Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre, Georgian College, the downtown Barrie Transit Terminal, Allandale Waterfront GO Station, Holly Community Centre, Park Place and South Barrie GO Station.
Barrie Transit’s existing 21 routes will be replaced with 10 more efficient ones.
Getting to GO trains will also be easier, with eight of the 10 new routes directly serving Barrie’s two GO Transit rail stations.
And from June 29 until Sept. 2, Barrie will have weekend GO train service.
Four trains will be running to Toronto and four coming back to Barrie, each Saturday and Sunday.
“Bus fare increases only cover a small percentage of what the city is actually doing to improve transit services,” Kaveckas said, “so it’s not totally funded from that fare increase. The city has taken the rest on through the general tax base and the provincial gas tax.”
Barrie Transit’s annual operating costs are $12 million, and just less than half of the expense is covered by bus fares – an even split between passes and cash fares. Kaveckas says Ontario municipalities have a wide range in the percentage of their transit costs covered by fares, from 20% to 70%. He says Barrie is aiming for 50%.
Kaveckas says the passes are a better deal for bus riders.
“The percentage increase for the passes is less (3%), so I think people who use the transit on a regular basis should look at the monthly pass as an alternative and it’s unlimited use so there is an advantage,” he said.
The new August transit plan will also include real-time updates, making scheduling information available so riders can be on time, plan their travel and miss fewer buses.
Up-to-the-minute prediction times will be available by phone or SMX text; all information will be posted online and on each bus stop sign.
Then there’s the ‘Borden Rocket’, so named by Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman, a transit service partnership and funding agreement to provide buses to Essa Township.
Two buses would operate from Barrie Transit Terminal along County Road 90 to parts of Angus, then stop at CFB Borden. The exact route, hours of operation and frequency of the buses still need to be finalized, but weekday service in the mornings, mid-day and afternoons is anticipated. The target date is also this August.
Essa Township councillors have approved a draft transit service agreement with Barrie, with a bylaw still to be hammered out.
“Basically they are paying the cost for the City of Barrie to provide the service,” Kaveckas said.
Barrie is also moving forward on its plans for a new transit garage, a building worth an estimated $23.5 million. Ottawa is contributing $5.8 million to the project, from the P3 Canada Board, and city spent $6.3 million buying 133 Welham Rd. in 2008 (for $5.3 million) and for the initial design to convert it to a transit facility.
The new transit garage is on the market and a request for proposals closes in September.
The city wants a private partner to operate and maintain the garage, and enter into a long-term contract of 10 to 20 years with it to deliver bus services. A city-owned transit garage would put prospective private partners on a level playing field. It’s to be operational Jan. 1, 2015.
The new partnership would include a performance-based contract aimed at improving Barrie Transit. The city’s private partner would have a series of standards it has to meet, including on-time performance, customer satisfaction, vehicle safety, etc. There can be financial penalties and incentives in the contract based on performance.
It should result in fewer breakdowns, less fuel costs – estimated at $80,000 annually, just in the savings from idling at the garage – and lower emissions.
To meet demand, Barrie Transit would increase its current bus fleet from 53 to about 80 in the next 15 years, then possibly to 120 buses by 2035.
The transit plan also includes a new bus station, probably in the south-end, for intercity travel by Greyhound, Ontario Northlands and GO Transit buses. It wouldn’t have to be much more than platforms, shelter and a place to buy tickets, and could cost as little as $1 million.
The current Maple Avenue station could then be turned into a food market, although there would still be platforms for some city buses.
For more information about Barrie Transit fares, go to http://www.barrie.ca/Living/Getting%20Around/Documents/2013%20Transit%20Fares.pdf.
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