January 9 , 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 55  

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Urban sprawl to blame for packed buses

By Catherine Cullen
Gazette Staff

Next time you’re crammed like a sardine on the 6 Richmond bus, you might want to think about blaming someone other than the girl who won’t stop hitting you with her backpack. Many experts are saying that increased demands on public transit can be attributed in part to urban sprawl.

“What sprawl does in terms of urban transit is it makes it much harder to serve than in more concentrated areas,” said David Gurin, a city planning consultant for the David Suzuki Foundation.

“The cost of the service increases and that will affect everyone, including students,” explained London Transit Commission general manager Larry Ducharme.
Suburban development does not support public transportation because it creates a low population density far from the city’s downtown, Ducharme added.

“When urban planning takes place in a way that privileges the automobile it’s a problem for anyone who uses transit,” said Tom Urbaniak, a lecturer for the department of political science at Western.

“As I understand it, one of the big problems for students is overcrowding of buses and frequency of service,” he added.

The LTC acknowledges that urban sprawl is a problem and does its best not to pass the costs along to all riders, Ducharme said. “We try to safeguard against that by saying that if we are going to service an area it has to yield a return.”

“It’s been a problem for quite a long time. Whether its getting any worse is hard to say,” said Andrew Sancton, professor of political science, referring to the issue of urban sprawl.

“I don’t think the problem is getting any better. It’s easy to give it attention but not so easy to come up with a solution,” Sancton added. “A solution could be a limit on suburban housing, but Canadians don’t want that.”

The LTC would like to get more surburbanites taking public transit, Ducharme said. “Two-thirds of the [London] public don’t take public transit — if each of those individuals took one two-way trip a year, that’s 40,000 fewer trips automobiles are making.”

Higher density development and an employer-based bus pass program (like the student passes at Western) could also help, Ducharme noted, adding changes will take time. “This isn’t going to occur overnight.”

Urban planning could be an effective solution to the problem, Gurin suggested. “I think that if the planning were done properly there would be less drain on the public.”

Gurin said he is hopeful the situation will improve, “I think that municipal and provincial governments are coming around.”



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