Use it or lose it

0x0_637853That was the message last week by town councillor Mike Boughton regarding the state of Milton Transit.

“Use it or lose it.”

Nothing really of note came out of this meeting from town councillors on how we can make the transit system better or find ways of saving money, or encouraging people to use the buses more.  Does the lack of attendance show that people don’t care about our transit system?  Hands up to those people who knew there was a meeting at town council discussing Milton Transit?  I thought so.

I recently heard someone joke about the contest Milton Transit had a couple of years back when the new buses were unveiled.  People were encouraged to take a picture of the bus if they saw one driving around town.  The contest should have been if you can see a bus driving around town WITH people in it.

Maybe town council should have thought about it more before they decided to invest over $3 million in buying new buses for the town.  Maybe they should have realized ridership was lower than they expected before they sent the cheque for several brand new, state of the art buses, to drive around town on a daily basis…empty.

Every year the report on Milton Transit came out and it showed what they called an “increase in ridership” for Milton Transit.  This report didn’t take into consideration the “free days” throughout the year.  If the buses are free, more people use them. 

The main problem with our transit system is convenience.  For instance, it’s not convenient for someone in the south eastern part of town to take the bus to go to downtown Milton.  If someone from Hawthorne Village wants to go downtown Milton to have a meal at the Ivy Arms or Pasqualino Cafe they would have to take at least two buses there and two buses back.  Or if someone who lives at Bronte Street and Ontario wanted to go to Montana’s or shop at Walmart at James Snow Parkway and Steeles, they would again have to take two buses there and two buses back.

Convenient?  Check the maps and see where you would be able to go if you were to take the bus.  I live at Thompson and Yates Drive and I wouldn’t even be able to go to one of my favourite places to get a coffee, Cafe Deda at Trudeau and Derry Road by bus.  If I wanted to go downtown Milton to Main Street Yarns to buy something for my mother, I wouldn’t be able to without taking two buses.  That means that during the day it would take me close to 45-50 minutes to go downtown Milton where I could take my car and be there in less than 10 minutes.

Has town council actually gone to the Milton Chamber of Commerce or the Milton DBIA to ask them what they think would help get people to take the bus?  I’m sure that the DBIA would love to see more people walking the streets of downtown Milton. 

The main reason why people take public transit is for work related travel.  So if you work and live in Milton there’s an option right?  Not likely.  Lets say you work at the new business park at the top of Hwy 25 and 401 and you live south of Main Street…you have to take two buses there and two buses back.  I don’t think there has been any study in town to find out how many people work and live in Milton but the numbers would definitely be interesting.  My guess, and that’s all it is, would be roughly 15% of people work and live in Milton.  As its been described before, Milton has become a bedroom community with a majority of people working outside of town.

There’s a trend forming here and it didn’t take too long for me to figure it out.

The focal point of the Milton Transit system is the GO Station and people who need to take the GO Train out of town SHOULD be encouraged to use the transit system.  Its perfectly set up for them.  Where is the advertising from Milton Transit to those riders?  Why don’t we see any programs available for these individuals like reduced rates, free days, etc to help promote the ease of taking the transit to the GO Station instead of trudging up Thompson Road first thing in the morning to complain about the number of lights and how slow it is.

If I had to take the GO Train out of town, Id be taking the bus believe me.  Problem is that aspect of the convenience of Milton Transit isn’t being talked about.  They just went ahead and spent millions on new buses and thought people will come in droves.  That kind of thinking reminds me of the movie FIELD OF DREAMS… “If you build it they will come.”

Not the case in the real world.  So instead of making comments like “use it or lose it”, we need to see some leadership and out of the box thinking.  Maybe the routes need to be changed in order to accommodate people who would like to shop and eat downtown to take the bus instead of a car.

Just imagine if they could go back in time and do some market research to find out if the system that was in place was acceptable to the potential transit rider.  Imagine if they surveyed people who drive from all parts of Milton to the GO Transit station and informed them of the routes in place, and offered an incentive for them to use.

There is a current promotion right now for free rides to the Milton Library for people under the age of 14.

Read and Ride Program for Summer 2009

Milton Transit and the Milton Public Library are teaming up for the Read and Ride Program. If you are 14 years of age or younger, you can ride the bus for free to the library to enjoy special summer reading programs, books, magazines and more, courtesy of Milton Transit. (Ride all over town for free, too!)

Visit the library as of mid-June to obtain a transit sticker for your library card. Ride Milton Transit all over town for free by presenting your stickered library card on the bus. Stickers are valid from July 6 to August 28; parent/guardian fare still applies. For information on summer reading programs at the library, visit Milton Public Library or call 905-875-2665.

Great idea but…people are still going to be required to take a bus, then transfer to another bus in order to get to the library no matter what part of town they are coming from outside of Route 2 on the map.  If someone from north of Main Street along Route 1 or Route 4 or Route 5 wants to take advantage of this program, transfering buses WILL be required.  Also, the fare is free for the child under 14 but not the parent or guardian taking the child to the library.

Will this promotion work?  Will having this available to students under 14 years old intice a parent or guardian to take their kids to the Milton Library on Milton Transit?  What do you think?

Our town has grown rapidly in the last several years and will continue to do so in the near future.  A new campus of WLU is being built shortly and there will be lots of students with or without cars who will need the convenience of a transit system to get about town.  Hundreds of homes are being built on the west side of town which means more congestion on the streets for people travelling around town.

Given these future changes, I think its time for our local government to take a long and hard look at the transit system that’s in place, admit that its been a colossal failure and the millions spent on the new buses was a mistake, and try to find a way to fix it before any more money is wasted.

This goes back to something I talked about during the last municipal campaign…door knocking.  Everyone, including myself, knocked on doors during the campaign.  What I talked about was continuing that in between election campaigns.  How do you know what the people are thinking if you don’t ask them.  You can continue to hold meetings that a majority of people wont attend and then say “see…no one cares.” or you can get out there and talk to people directly.  You can ask them face to face what they think and what advice they might have.

Democracy is a two way street.  People expect that their elected representatives wont forget about them the 3 or so years in between votes.  Problem is, no one is seen going door to door to get peoples opinions.  Maybe they’re afraid of what they hear?

Less coffee, more walking

Having started a new job at Moneris Solutions (Canada’s leader in debit/credit processing solutions) and back on the road, Ive had to re-learn a few things.

In the past, I was an outside sales representative in the B2B (business to business) sales. My job was to go to my prospects offices, sell, and repeat. With this new position my territory is mainly in the downtown Toronto area.

Nothing like working downtown Toronto to make you appreciate Milton even more. In my first week, I did learn a valuable lesson. My contacts are mainly retailers and generally they are all located beside each other, leaving me to park my car and walk from one end of the street to the next.

Not a problem, right? For those who know me well, I am an avid drinker of coffee. Lots of coffee (with an 11 month old at home some of the reasons are obvious) is how I make it through the day. In the past, I was able to drive from one location to the other, make a stop here and there for some coffee and use the washroom when needed.

My first stop on my calls was the Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue part of Toronto. So after I get into town, find myself a parking spot, pay in advance, I grab my materials and head out. The only problem is … using the facilities 🙂 . In downtown Toronto there arent many places you can just drop in and go. If there are places, its coffee shops and restaurants. They are pretty picky on who comes in to use the washroom so they normally demand (some nicely, and some not so nicely) to buy something before using the washroom. This leads to even more coffee and a repeat of the problem.

Needless to say, now before I head out, I limit my coffee intake and so far, its served me well. That and more comfortable shoes as pounding the pavement, literally, can be painful.

Thats why I enjoy the ride back into town and despite all the selection in town, my favourite place for a great cup of coffee is Cafe Deda, located at Trudeau and Derry Road (right beside Hawthorne Pharmacy) Tell Faisal I said HI!!!!

Future Dunking and Coffee Talk Prep

Over the past several weeks in the campaign there have been many “Meet the Candidate’s” meetings, informal debates, information sessions, Milton Masterpiece Theatre’s, and other things to keep the daytimer of a candidate full.

Last night was an “informal” discussion / debate for the Halton Public School Board Trustee position. Given all the debates across town recently, Pat and I havent had the chance to see these two in action (these two meaning Paul Tate and Donna Danielli)

Seeing the fact that our son Anthony is in the public school system, I found a way to attend this meeting…as a parent. My first thought and comment to Pat was that Im glad to be on the OTHER side of the debate table for a change. 🙂

That meeting went well with about 10-15 parents attending at Hawthorne Village Public School. Afterwards I was speaking with Heather, who organized the debate, about some other issues of importance to her and others like a bike path by Trudeau to name one.

Some good discussions came out of that evening, during and after the debate. While the rooms were being cleaned up I had a chace to talk to a young father of a 6 month old who grew up here in Milton but now lives in Burlington. Hes worried about what Milton has to offer our youth.

And he has a right to be concerned as we all should be. He has seen first hand growing up in Milton if theres nothing to do…kids get into trouble. Milton is being built now to benefit young families…children from babies to 10 years old. But they wont stay young for long now will they. I know that because it wasnt too long ago, Anthony was crawling around and now he’s reading Pat and I his Jack and Annie books. What about when he turns 15 or 16?

What will he or many of our children do then? Splash pad just wont cut it when theyre that age and the movie theatre can show only so many films.

I am confident that the town has programs to keep the youth engaged but is it enough? Not from what I’m hearing. Its something we should be thinking about now, because if we wait another few years, it will be too late and our kids will be reading much more to us than Jack and Annie books I can assure you. We need to start talking with business owners and investors to encourage them to talk to kids…engage them…and get their input to come up with ideas … SOON!

Heather and I were also discussing other means of raising much needed funds for the school when I offered my services to be dunked at the next carnival fundraiser for Hawthorne Village PS. Me and my big mouth!!! HA.

Its all good. Im hoping Heather WONT remember that promise, but then again she is very good at remembering things our local representatives have promised and NOT delivered in the past.

Just as a reminder Pat, Anthony and myself will be at Cafe Deda tomorrow night starting at 7pm until 830pm (or until Farris boots me out…whatever comes first) HA.

I look forward to seeing you then to answer any questions you might have or if you just want to come by and say hello.

Talk to you then…and I’ll see you at the doors.