London Transit calls funding 'Godsend'

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

The wheels on the bus will keep going ’round and ’round thanks to a chunk of unconditional funding for the London Transit Commission.

Transit systems across Ontario are receiving a boost from the provincial government. London was allotted $6.2 million for the LTC.

“They can use it in a way they think is important to increase the capacity, the ridership and also to maintain their system,” Khalil Ramal, MPP for London-Fanshawe, said. “[Premier Dalton] McGuinty believes strongly in the public transit system.”

Ramal said the bus system is important because it is environmentally friendly and also reduces traffic congestion. “We’ll hit two birds with one stone,” he said.

Larry Ducharme, LTC general manager, was elated at the news.

“It’s a Godsend,” he said.

Since 2004, the government has given London transit over $50 million in funding, but limited it to specific uses. This time the LTC is free to use the money however it wishes.

The money will be focused on three areas of improvement for the LTC. Since postsecondary students represent approximately 45 per cent of all ridership, they will be taken into account in the plans.

But Ducharme warned this new funding won’t make everyone happy: “We have to balance all of those requests ... if we extend the hours of service, I don’t give you better hours during the day.”

He added, “I don’t have enough money at the end of the day to do everything I want to do.”

The top priority is creating a satellite facility since the LTC has outgrown its current location.

The LTC also has plans to use the funding to support the “Bus Rapid Transit Plan,” which is designed to improve the efficiency of the transit system and address a common complaint in its recent transit survey.

“It’s designed to move large volumes of people rather quickly,” Ducharme explained.

The plan focuses on major nodes within the city. The nodes would serve as collection points and routes between them would optimally travel at higher frequencies.

The next priority is to implement Smart Bus technology. Expected to be fully functional this fall, Smart Bus will include real-time bus scheduling at all major nodes in addition to visual and audio announcement of stops.

Western information and media studies graduate student Jeff Preston, who will be travelling in his motorized wheelchair to Ottawa on May 5 as part of a campaign to increase accessibility, was pleased to hear about the new funding.

Lack of funding was the city’s main reason for not having more accessible transportation.

He encouraged the LTC to “think very seriously about using this money to increase accessibility for everyone, not just those who are non-disabled.”

Ducharme assured that while it doesn’t designate a particular pot of money for dealing with accessibility, it would be covered in some of the other projects.

As an example, he pointed out the funds will help buy new, accessible buses under the “Bus Rapid Transit Plan.”

Ducharme also highlighted the visual and audio announcing under the Smart Bus initiative.

“I’m encouraged to hear that with new funding comes a possibility of increased accessibility.”

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