Improve Greater Sudbury Public Transportation by Increasing the Service for Peak Travel Time

January 12, 2015 - There is no denying public transportation in Greater Sudbury needs improvement. Currently, the public transportation system simply does not offer the quality of service required to attract users.

Suggestions made to improve the system include: increasing the number of routes and the frequency of the routes[1]. To improve the service in this manner requires a higher operational budget. Transit supporters believe a short-term increase to funding will provide a long-term benefit[2]. However, in a world of limited funds, it is simply impossible to expand service “everywhere” and “all the time.”

The city must therefore create the most efficient system within its means. How can this be accomplished since the service cannot realistically be improved by significantly increasing the number of buses and routes? The city’s public transportation authorities should determine a clear purpose or goal for the system and plan a system that fulfills that purpose and does it efficiently. The public transportation system should focus on times when the travel behaviour of residents is at its highest, which is on weekdays during the morning and afternoon commute. In Greater Sudbury, according to the 2006 Census, only 5 per cent of employed residents, 15 years or older, used public transit to travel to work, compared to 77 per cent for the automobile and nearly 7 per cent for walking/biking[3]. Public transit needs to increase its quality of service by offering more buses during the peak times and focusing on key employment destinations such as the downtown, university, colleges, among others where there is a high traffic volume.

More frequent service during the peak hours will improve the reliability of the system for getting users to work on time and decreasing their stress levels. Currently, with limited peak service on many routes, users are required to arrive early at their stop to ensure catching the bus, which, unfortunately, often results in longer wait times (not enjoyable during harsh Northern Ontario winters). Employed individual usually place a higher value on their time because of competing demands such as work, family, personal/recreational and other activities, and as a result they are more willing to spend more money in order to reduce their travel time[4].

The Greater Sudbury public transportation system could be improved by rearranging the current bus schedule to increase the frequency of buses during peak times at the expense of mid-day or evening buses when travel is more discretionary. Is a bus from an outlying neighbourhood to the downtown really necessary at 7:30 pm on a Wednesday night? In particular, when there is only one bus for the same route between 8 and 9 am when the travel demand is much greater. Travel for discretionary or recreational purposes is highly flexible, less frequent and difficult to predict. Accordingly, it is very difficult to service using a highly scheduled system like public transportation.

With a new mayor and city council recently sworn in, there is renewed optimism that badly needed improvement to the city’s public transportation system will finally occur. However, in a city with a large geographic area and limited resources, any “improvement” made to the system will result in some neighbourhoods or accessibility to some activities being neglected.

Authored by Julien Bonin, Researcher with Northern Policy Institute

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[1] MacDonald, D. (2014) Group: Boosting Transit Funds Would Ultimately Save City Money. Northern Life, November 2014.

[2] MacDonald, D. (2014) Group: Boosting Transit Funds Would Ultimately Save City Money. Northern Life, November 2014.

[3] Statistics Canada. 2007. Greater Sudbury / Grand Sudbury, Ontario (Code580) (table). 2006 Community Profiles. 2006 Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 92-591-XWE. Ottawa. Released March 13, 2007. (accessed November 25, 2014).

[4] Litman, T. (2014) Valuing Transit Service Quality Improvements: Considering Comfort and Convenience In Transport Project Evaluation. Vitoria Transport Policy Institute.

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