Katie on Transit: Belleville on one hand, Waterloo on the other…

Over the summer, I was working in the Belleville Downtown Improvement Area office, located on Belleville’s Front Street. I don’t drive, so it was either a 45 minute walk, a 15 minute bike ride with a seemingly constant flat front tire, or I would take the bus. I rarely rode my bike, I walked maybe 60% of the time, and the rest of the time I would take the bus.

In Belleville, I live right next to one of the most major arterial roads, Dundas Street. Whenever I took the bus, I had to walk across the highway, stand alongside it, and wait on the grass as trucks whizzed by me constantly (that rant comes later), and the bus route would take me in the complete opposite direction of downtown, and whiz through many of Belleville’s East end residential avenues and then finally pull up in front of the library, which luckily left just a couple minutes’ walk to the office, right on time for work.

No one was forcing me to take the bus or that route, I’m very aware, but the problem I have with the bus system is its haywire inefficiency that would otherwise inhibit me to even take the bus and support Belleville’s transit system. One thing that really irks me is, compared to the Region of Waterloo — and plenty of other cities around Canada and the world, Belleville does not have any alternating routes that complement each other. For example, if there was a bus riding the same route in the opposite direction (going towards Front Street), I wouldn’t have had to cross the highway and I would be at my destination within minutes. Creating complementing routes would make the system far more efficient for the ridership, and would have the potential support a large ridership because it just makes sense to have buses going each way — someone who would have taken the bus might end up walking instead because it’s much more efficient for them to do so in a certain situation, leaving them to disregard the bus and its one-way system, like I did some mornings.

Of course, so many things come to question in this speculation of efficiency. Sure it may be more effective in some situations similar to mine, but Belleville’s bus terminal as it is is definitely not big enough to support literally double the amount of busses that are on the road currently. (Additionally, if anyone has noticed the public’s impatient attitude with the Downtown Belleville Revitalization, there would definitely be some vocal negativity towards such a project). Also, is Belleville’s ridership even that big enough for it to be of concern? I remember going to the mall on a Saturday afternoon a couple years ago with my friend, taking the bus that was travelling on a major street connecting many of Belleville’s neighbourhoods. We got on the bus that takes you from popular East end Belleville to the mall and there was one other person on the bus – on a Saturday afternoon! Similarly, over the summer going to and from work, there was never a time when there weren’t plenty of seats to choose from. Belleville’s manager of transit Matt Coffey claims that ridership is up, however these fluctuations of numbers are common. Also, take note that Belleville transit eliminated a route and combined some of its old stops with an existing route, proving that in some areas of the city, the need for bus transit is very little. (But some need still existed, and that’s the trouble!)

Now for my rant: safety. Belleville’s bus stops are not safe; at least, some of them are not. Waiting alongside Dundas Street East for the bus in those mornings when I wished I had woken up early enough to walk really woke me up in a different way. The image below shows you how close you are pushed to the road, constantly full of trucks that whizz by (especially at 8:30 in the morning when I stood waiting):

buskatieoncities

…And I can only imagine what that would be like in the wintertime.

This is definitely not the only bus stop like this in the City of Belleville that makes you afraid (city infrastructure should not make you afraid!); the stops all along Dundas Street past Herchimer Avenue are all like this one. The next closest ‘comfortable’ bus stop along Dundas’ Eastbound lanes is in front of Shoppers Drugmart (about a kilometre away), with seats and a garbage can.

It’s funny – I’m complaining, but I am a healthy, capable young woman who only experiences some discomfort. What if I were elderly or using a walker? What if I had a stroller of young children with me? I probably wouldn’t take the bus at all, considering the vehicles that oftentimes speed down the highway I would have to cross. There is nowhere for me to rest my legs as I wait for the bus, and I would feel so unsafe having kids waiting with me at such a dangerously located and exposed bus stop. Also, what if I didn’t know Belleville’s bus system at all? The lack of information on the bus stop signs completely alienates new users from taking the bus who wouldn’t know the fare, what bus stops here, where it goes, and when it would even come. I shouldn’t even have to mention this, but of course there is nothing like an app to download – the bus route system and schedule can only be found on the City of Belleville’s website.

The problem: Belleville’s infrastructure is lacking, resulting in an unsupported bus system. These gaps alienate new users and make people feel just plain uncomfortable. I want to be able to compare Belleville to Waterloo on this topic, but it’s actually very difficult because transit really depends on the demographics that shape it. Take Waterloo, for example, where the huge influx of students going to and from class on an hourly basis Monday through Friday simply demands for their to be busses going to and from campus at every hour of the day, to all areas of the city where they live. The bus scheduling system has been modified so that there are more buses on the route at peak times – missed the 202 iXpress going home? No problem, another one comes in less than 15 minutes. Back in Belleville, it would have been quicker to walk home for the 45 minutes that it took me.

I know I said it would be invalid to compare the two bus systems, but I’ll take a moment to discuss Waterloo on its own so you can come to your own conclusions. Waterloo’s bus system is actually also Kitchener’s and Cambridge’s: the Region of Waterloo took advantage of economies of scale in 2000 by amalgamating Kitchener-Waterloo’s and Cambridge’s then-individual transit systems into one regional transit system: The Grand River Transit, or ‘GRT.’ The connection between the tricities is an excellent opportunity for people to explore the region fluidly. So, as you can imagine, the ridership and bus fleet are both huge (in comparison to Belleville’s – sorry!).

My experience of the transit system here has been a more comfortable one compared to Belleville’s in general. There are many bus stops (around where I take the bus, at least), that have enclosed or at least protective coverings that protect you from the rain. (Raining in Belleville? Sucks! And the next bus comes in another 20 minutes, too. Have fun!) Also, many of the more populated bus stops have digital screens highlighting the current time and when the next bus will show up, which also let you know if a bus is delayed. Another big thing: the iXpress bus line, which takes you to designated central and highly populated areas only. It is a blessing to be able to take the bus straight from campus and have only one stop in between where I get on and get off. Of course, the buses here are much more populated, but interestingly enough it makes me more comfortable to be surrounded by people than when I boarded the near-empty bus in Belleville. I also take the bus because I am environmentally conscious, so why take it and end up being the only one on there? There was always this weird ping of environmental guilt in Belleville when the bus was near-empty, but in Waterloo (around my travel times, mind you) that pang of guilt will never hit me because the bus is constantly populated, often full of students my age.

Please take my arguments with a grain of salt. I am only one woman experiencing the bus system as I experience it in either city! Also, you just can’t compare Belleville to Waterloo with a high level of validity to your argument because of the wildly different variables. However, that doesn’t mean that Belleville can’t learn some things from the GRT: bus stops that make you feel like the city actually cares about your wellbeing, for example. (Okay, I can’t rip on Belleville too much, apparently there are plans to add some bus shelters in the near future.)

Interesting anecdote: many of my colleages who come from bigger cities complain about the GRT when I find it an absolute blessing. It makes me wonder how much more advanced their system is, which in turn makes me wonder just how much farther Belleville’s transit system has to go to achieve these levels of efficiency and comfort. Public transit does not have to be a gruelling task, Bellevillians! Please see the light, even if that means you have to visit another city.

Some interesting reads to suit your fancy:

Citizens make big impact with low-cost bus stop seating

It’s time to vote for the sorriest bus stop in America
(does the fourth picture ring a bell at all?)

The signal distance factor

GRT Fast Facts

Note: I always welcome and appreciate arguments, discussions, and comments!

One thought on “Katie on Transit: Belleville on one hand, Waterloo on the other…

  1. The only qualm I have between the GRT and my hometown bus provider Brampton Transit is nothing to do with the actual service, but more along the lines of how the city was planned out. In Waterloo, buses often take a very meandering, twisted route where in Brampton, buses usually only travel in straight lines along the grid of the city.

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