Editor’s note: The published version and a previous online version of this article incorrectly stated DRT single adult fares were increasing to $3.15 in 2019. This increase already occurred in 2018. Any changes to bus fares have yet to be made as the 2019 budget has not been approved. The article has also been updated to clarify that funding of $4.25 million for land acquisition for a facility in North Oshawa was approved in the 2018 budget. The cost of the facility is estimated at $50 million, with construction slated to start in 2020.
By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Improvements to strengthen transit services are the priority for Durham Regional Transit in 2019.
According to DRT general manager Vincent Patterson in 2018 ridership reached 10.6 million, the highest ever total other than 2014.
For 2019, Patterson said DRT hopes to focus on expanding and enhancing the frequent network, serving new growth areas, and enhancing Saturday services and on-demand services.
It is expected that on-board security cameras will be fully installed by March 31, at a cost of $2.6 million.
DRT also plans to spend $2.175 million on upgrades to the Raleigh garage in Oshawa. The garage doors have already been replaced, and it is expected that demolition and soil treatment will begin this spring, and will be completed sometime this summer.
In an e-mail, Patterson told The Oshawa Express, “Having inaugurated our new maintenance facility at this location in June 2017, the next step is to tear down that part of the older building that houses the old original maintenance shops – they date back to 1964. Underground fuel tanks that are no longer in use will also be removed as is common practice to ensure they are not left to deteriorate and present a risk of contamination to the surrounding environment.”
There are also plans to build a new indoor bus storage and servicing facility in north Oshawa, for which they are expecting to finalize the land acquisition this year.
Funding of $4.25 million for the land acquisition was approved in last year’s budget. The total cost of building the new facility will be $50 million, with construction expected to start in 2020.
DRT is also building a new transit facility in Seaton, which is expected to cost $25 million in 2023.
It is also expected that construction of bus rapid transit (BRT) lanes between Westney Road and Harwood Avenue in Ajax will be complete by the end of March. This project will cost the region $8.95 million.
It is also expected the region will spend $1 million on the design and critical utility relocations for Highway 2 BRT curbside expansion between Brock Road and Glenanna Road in Pickering.
According to the report, this project’s detailed design is underway and all property required for the project has been purchased.
They will also be spending an additional $1.662 million on a detailed design for BRT roadwork and utility investigations between Merritton Road and Delta Boulevard in Pickering, and Salem Road to Galea Drive in Ajax.
Service hours from bus routes that are infrequently used will be reallocated to high-performing corridors in order to benefit a greater number of passengers, according to Patterson.
Another priority for DRT in 2019 is the improvement of specialized transit, which provides transportation for disabled residents around Durham.
Enhancements made to specialized transit include the implementation of dedicated trip booking phone lines, upgrades to trip booking and scheduling software, and the use of PRESTO electronic fare devices on DRT specialized service vehicles.
Patterson hopes to move away from paper tickets and for DRT to become completely electronic in the near future.
Transit services in rural north Durham continue to expand, as Patterson noted service hours have increased by 52 per cent since 2016 from 9,105 hours to 13,875 hours in 2017, and with only minor schedule adjustments in 2018.
DRT has a number of organizational objectives set for implementation this year.
These include modernizing the service’s website, improving navigation of DRT’s network, promoting greater use of PRESTO services, and physical improvements to bus stops to increase safety, accessibility and comfort for customers.
Transit staff will also monitor ridership trends in regards to incentive programs, such as the fare incentive pilot which allowed youth who purchased the July monthly pass to be able to travel in August for free.
DRT will also continue to monitor, publish and increase on-time performances, while also revitalizing their service strategy by focusing on high-order transit, regional growth, and on-demand services.
The transit service also hopes to enhance their effectiveness at delivering transit services by focusing and prioritizing safety, continuing training in customer service, strengthening employee engagement and internal communications, and specifying design requirements for a new garage, as well as beginning to plan a new division.
DRT also hopes to find internal effectives by prioritizing customer safety, training to improve customer service, employment and internal communications.
They will also continue to hone their ability to deliver planned services, such as care of the fleet and recovery from incidents. The organization will continue to remove barriers to accessibility, and will align with and measure against performance targets and standards.
DRT also hopes to identify, pursue and achieve financial efficiencies with sustained revenue so they can protect their revenue-cost ratio, while also investing in PRESTO and other fare collection equipment.
They also hope to refine their asset plan so it can sustain growth.
DRT also plans to continue replacing their fleet, as well as shaping its composition. They plan to continue the harmonization of service planning, delivery and administrative processes, while also continuing to pursue outside funding.
Mary Simpson, the region’s director of financial planning and purchasing, said there are a number of financial considerations to take note of, such as the operating pressures DRT may face.
Simpson says this includes the annualization of prior year service enhancements, major repairs to vehicles, and the general cost of operations.
Some potential uncertainties for transit services include fluctuating growth levels in the region, tentative federal and provincial funding levels, competition with other regional services, and affordability for fare payers.
Simpson said needs to make capital investments to meet growth needs, as this could result in the need for more vehicles and facilities, replacement of vehicles, and changing technologies in the industry.
Regional chair John Henry asked if transit officials have considered looking at other options for new buses and other vehicles, specifically, hybrid vehicles.
Henry noted he thinks electric vehicles are not at the point where they will serve the community well yet.
Patterson responded by noting “We’re looking at all types of innovations out there.”
However, Patterson also noted fully electric buses are out there and have been working well in large transit systems.