Response to interview with Lori Patterson regarding Metro Transit

As a long-suffering Metro Transit rider, I was amused to hear Ms. Lori Patterson’s views of Metro Transit on Information Morning today. Her interview confirmed my belief that few, if any, of Metro Transit’s management actually use the service.

For example, the U-Pass service, which nets Metro Transit upwards of $2 million a year ($100 a student from about 20,000 university students at three universities), only runs from September to May. This overlooks the fact that many students take summer courses, some of which are required, especially those on co-op with summer academic terms. On one occasion, I had to pay a student’s fare because he was unaware that the U-Pass could not be used in the summer.

Metro Transit’s scheduling is also something of a mystery. For example, the so-called university service buses run approximately 8am to 6pm, Monday to Friday only. Many students work late at school, meaning that these buses are of little use to them—forcing them to drive to school (I know of several students living in Clayton Park who have given up on the bus and drive), take a cab, or live downtown (defeating the purpose of the mandatory U-Pass). Similarly, those students living outside the downtown who want to go to school on the weekend must drive or spend lengthy periods on the bus. Of course, these problems are not restricted to students—they also impact anyone working “non-traditional” hours.

Perhaps one of the biggest, and certainly appreciated, surprises came this summer when Metro Transit introduced a number of buses with air conditioning—a welcome change from the sticky sardine cans the buses normally turn into during the summer months. When I asked one of the drivers about the air conditioning, he told me that the previous manager had rejected the use of air conditioning, and the new manager who allowed it was leaving—whether air conditioning would be available in new buses would be up to the next manager hired.

One of the future projects Ms. Patterson mentioned was the possible introduction of a “trip planner” for Metro Transit riders. Perhaps Ms. Patterson has forgotten that in 2003, one of my students and I wrote such a package for Metro Transit—it was novel and innovative in that it not only found the shortest route time for riders, it also supported transfers (something that trip planners at the time could not do). Although Metro Transit received the software at no cost (it was paid for by the Canadian taxpayer), they refused to supply us with the necessary data to maintain it. As a result, Metro Transit riders have been without a trip planner for the past four years.

What Ms. Patterson and the management of Metro Transit fail to understand is that it will take more than new signage to encourage riders. Many people take the bus, in spite of, not because of, the quality of the service. The few examples given in this letter reflects the lack of imagination and understanding at Metro Transit.

Submitted to CBC Information Morning - 4 September 2007