Why Saturday Transit in Milton Can Wait

As many of you will read in the Milton Canadian Champion, Town Council recently approved (yet to be ratified) a property tax increase of 3.04% urban and 3.05% rural for 2013.  This budget included many needed capital and operating projects that will help improve the quality of life in town.

I can speak to those measures in another blog, but I wanted to bring to your attention the budget committee’s approval of offering Saturday Transit service.  Earlier this year, when the concept of Saturday transit was on the table before council, we had voted to defer the program until we had an opportunity to review the Milton Transit Master Plan.

This master plan will help set the course of where transit would go in Milton from 2013 and beyond.  To date we have still not received that report.  Many councillors, including myself, had attended the public meetings over the summer to help provide input in that master plan.  This report is slated to be reviewed by council in January, although it was initially supposed to be presented in November, which would have given us a chance to reviews its findings and make decisions at that time.

Minus the Milton Transit Master plan, I felt it was necessary to not support the Saturday service.  This service is slated to begin in September of 2013 at a cost to Milton taxpayers of $76,000.00 for 4 months.  Through this measure, we have now committed this and future councils to an annualized cost of $228,000.00 + per year for this service.

Some have asked me why did I not support it.  The short answer is that its not time yet for such a service despite some public feedback that we need it now.  I am supportive of the concept of expanding our transit services in the coming years, but not right now given some of the numbers I have been reviewing.

This blog post is to serve as the “long” answer to that question of why not now.

With a proposed $76,000 in operating expenses for Saturday service beginning in September 2013, and a targeted Revenue : Cost ratio (set by staff) of 45%, the revenue required to reach the R/C goal results in 671 fares per Saturday. To be fair, the current R/C ratio is 40%, resulting in 596 fares per Saturday, to maintain the status quo.

76,000 x 45% = 34,200 / 3.00 Fare / 17 Saturdays = 671
76,000 x 40% = 30,400 / 3.00 Fare / 17 Saturdays = 596

Based on the most recent Monthly Ridership Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) from October 2012, Milton Transit totalled 31,697 boardings that month.  There were 23 days of service. The result is a daily total average of 1,378 boardings. So at first glance, all Saturday service needs to do is operate at half the capacity to meet the 45% R/C target.

However, 930 of the conventional ridership were School Specials and Evening Drop Offs (which will not be included in Saturday service). Also to be noted, October 2012 was an anomalous 5,000 riders higher than any other month, ever. Using the annual average (with the inflated October numbers) of 25,527 boardings per month, the daily average is 1,109 boardings (based on a 23 day service month). Therefore Saturday transit service will need to operate at 60% of conventional weekday service to reach the R/C target, and 53% of the current R/C ratio. Keep in mind, approximately 930 riders (October numbers) of the monthly ridership will be automatically voided due to the fact School and Evening routes will not be offered.

But clearly, this increase in the budget has been called upon by the majority of residents in order for Council to deem it a valuable expenditure? Hardly. Of the 1290 recorded Customer Comments from 2012, 190 (14.7%) were related to weekend service.

But then, Milton Transit must be showing numbers of increasing growth which would demonstrate the need for service growth? Again, hardly. The first graph below indicates that while Milton Transit has been steadily growing since Q1 of 2010, with the biggest spike between Q3-Q4 2010, 2012 has not been a growth year. In fact, this has marked the first year since 2008 where quarterly numbers failed to meet the previous quarter back-to-back (ie. 2012 Q2 was less than 2012 Q1, and 2012 Q3 was less than 2012 Q2).

The next chart confirms the findings of the chart above, but shows the actual numbers, not the percentage.

While the overall ridership has grown dramatically, Milton Transit has reached a point where actual ridership is being lost.

The last graph shows that Milton Transit has already experienced the boom on ridership Annual Quarter to Annual Quarter.

Example – the biggest argument you will hear from staff is that numbers are always down in the summer. That is true. And numbers pick way up come September. Also true.

So I have compared the growth between Quarters in subsequent years. Notice that the greatest increase (almost unforeseen in Transit) was almost 90% growth! That was when Milton Transit attracted the most riders, and since that time, Annual Quarter to Annual Quarter has dropped significantly – almost to the point of stagnation.

Clearly, these are not promising numbers to a system that wishes to add service.  My opinion is that this is a way to promote conventional weekday service through offering the Saturday service. Which for $76,000 is a cheaper way to advertise, while still offering the service.

Add to that the findings from Dillon Consulting that 56% of all Milton Transit trips start or end at the Milton Go Station. It is not a stretch to submit that the majority of those riders are Go Service users (specifically, Go Train).

Considering the fact that the Go Train does not operate on Saturdays, I would also submit that to attain any reasonable level of ridership without Go Train users (and hence Evening Drop Off’ers), and School Specials, is highly improbable and I would challenge staff or Milton Transit to divulge any relevant statistics or findings to indicate otherwise.

I believe this to be a case of ‘We Should Do This Because That’s What Cities Do’, not ‘We Must Do This For The Betterment of Milton’.

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