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VIEWPOINT - CITY FILE - Developing Story

Improving Kingston Transit by Jordan Press

Every morning, Jeremy DaCosta hops on board Kingston Transit for his 55-minute ride to work. As manager of Kingston Transit, he oversees a fleet of 48 buses and 100 drivers that moved almost 3.5 million riders in 2009. Kingston Life joined DaCosta on a tour of the system and talked about the four big complaints Kingston Transit receives and what the system is doing in response. “In transit, it’s about [getting to] the destination, not the journey,” DaCosta says.

Complaint #1: Frequency
Buses travel along major corridors like Princess Street at 15-minute in­tervals during the day, with the rest of the system on 30-minute intervals. Sometimes a bus will fall behind due to traffic, repeated red lights or being overwhelmed at passenger stops.

The Response:
The city has introduced feeder routes: smaller buses that go into neighbourhoods so large buses can stick to more direct routes. DaCosta says the smaller buses aren’t a perfect solution, because they aren’t designed for frequent stops but it’s the best solution for King­ston right now. There is $550,000 in this year’s transit budget to determine the logistics of adding traffic light control technology to every bus, which delays red lights at intersections until after buses roll through. Another option that has long been considered is transit priority lanes, so that buses can jump the queue of cars at an intersection.

Complaint #2: Reliability

There is one bus at St. Lawrence College at 3:15 p.m on the day of our ride-along; DaCosta points out that there should be four. There are delays elsewhere in the system, he explains.  Kingston Transit runs on a “pulse” system where all buses arrive at transfer terminals at once and then leave at the same time. The strength is convenience — riders don’t have to wait for transfers — but if a bus is a few minutes late, it throws the whole system off.

The Response:
Kingston Transit continues to look at GPS systems that would allow dispatchers to communicate the location of every bus to waiting riders. Spinoffs could include wireless Internet and smartphone apps that provide real-time data about buses en route. The detailed technology analysis will cost the city about $550,000, and an estimated $3 million will be needed in the 2013 capital bud­get to purchase and install the technology.

Complaint #3: Directness
Routes can sometimes be circuitous, which tacks on extra time to a trip. DaCosta’s ride to and from work takes almost one hour and three transfers. He knows it takes less time by car. He also knows that un­less Kingston Transit can compete with the car, the service won’t be as attractive as it could be.

The Response:

Two new routes started operating in September: Route 7 to connect west and central Kingston to downtown, and Route 18 to connect the north and east to downtown. Two express routes, offering more frequent and uninterrupted trips between major transfer points, are proposed for 2013. Kingston Transit estimates the ex­press routes would require 10 new buses to operate. Buses cost about $450,000 and can take up to a year to receive. Taxpayers and riders would have to in­vest about $5.5 million in capital costs along with millions more in operating costs.

Complaint #4: Visibility

Many stops are only marked by a pole with
a small sign. While waiting at the downtown station, a rider points out that snow is still piled high in front of a few stops on Weller Avenue. After our tour, DaCosta finds the snowbound stops and calls them in. Public works employees clear snow in front of all stops, us­ually immediately after a storm, DaCosta says.

The Response:
Create a more visible transit presence around the city. “I liken it to a rail line. You know the train always goes there because the rails are there,” DaCosta says. Among the ideas being examined: bike lockers at stops and pathways in neighbourhoods that connect to stops. “Every person before they take transit is a pedestrian,” DaCosta says. “If you don’t have proper ped­estrian connections, you’re not going to attract someone to come and take the bus… It’s a barrier to delivering a transit service.”