Peterborough Transit Struggles with Increased Student Population

Photo by Keila MacPherson.

When I first came to this institution of higher learning in 1985-86, the Trent student body consisted of roughly 5000 people, and transit was rudimentary. Also, the late night bus service to ferry revellers home from the downtown bar scene had not yet come into being.

I wanted to know how well the transit system was faring (no pun intended!), in light of the fact that the number of applicants to Trent, as per the Ontario University Application Centre (OUAC) statistics, had increased by 16.6% as of February 2016 from 2015. The same OUAC report also mentioned that applicants to Trent from high schools in Ontario had increased by 17.3% compared to the province-wide average of 1.5%, and that Ontario students who were making Trent their first choice on OUAC was up by 7.4% as of 2016.

So obviously, we have more students on campus! Current statistics from the Trent site list 6,784 Undergraduate Students, 480 Graduate Students, 603 International Students from over 100 countries and 308 Self-Identified Indigenous Students. That’s a lot of people! So I went out and interviewed some Trent and Fleming students to get their take on how they felt about how well or not the Transit system was keeping up with the increase in ridership.

I spoke with Elizabeth, a frequent rider of the Trent Express buses to and from Symons Campus, who said: “The frequency of the Express buses is good overall, but they are sometimes late. One specific driver always leaves the half-point early on the West Bank run.” Elizabeth pointed, however, to certain problems of overcrowding on certain Trent Express runs, especially those leaving the George street terminal at half-past the hour, and arriving at Main Campus at ten minutes to the hour. She added: “Overall, the system works well, however, due to the way classes are scheduled on campus, quite often, any departure from the George street terminal leaving at half-past the hour is full.” Elizabeth went on to say that at morning and afternoon peak periods, she has sometimes witnessed “riders being turned away from the half past departure from the George street terminal and from the ten minutes to the hour departure from Main campus, leaving riders to wait for the next bus.”

I also spoke with Nick, a Fleming student, who uses the late night Express buses from downtown back to Fleming after closing time at the bars: “The service is fairly decent for the size of the town. As the city grows, I think that the buses will become more consistent in their schedules.” Nick went on to say that the regular buses at 20-40 minutes of frequency is not as good as it could be: “I hear a lot of big city students complaining that the frequency of the buses is not as good as it is in the big city.’” But, he added, “buses show up when they are supposed to, and I haven’t had any problems with buses not showing up or being late. The late night service is good. I took it three or four weeks ago and quite a few people use it. It is a safe way to get home and it saves on cabs.”

I wanted to get Peterborough Transit’s take on the situation, so I spoke with Martin Ward, Operations Manager of Peterborough Transit. He said, “We have added an extra bus on the Trent West Bank route to alleviate congestion, and there is also an issue with the Trent East Bank route which fewer people use, because it does not go along Water street and winds up at Gzowski College.” Mr. Ward went on to say that users of this route, in his opinion, “do not understand this route and how it works.” Mr. Ward went on to say that Peterborough Transit is investing “two million dollars to hard surface bus stops (putting in concrete pads), to make them ready to install bus shelters.” He added that “a bus shelter has to be fully AODA compliant (accessible), and costs between ten to fifteen thousand dollars each.” I asked him why the stops did not have the routes indicated on the actual stop, and he said that “… in the next sixteen months we will be installing a CAD/AVL (a type of GPS), system so that transit users will be able to use their mobile devices to find out which buses are coming next and when.”

Since the Trent Express buses are funded by Trent students’ levies, I thought it best to contact the TCSA to get their take on the situation, and spoke with Brandon Remmelgas, who said that “we have more students using transit than ever before, but we have limited resources based on the levies we collect from students to provide buses and drivers from Peterborough Transit.” However, Brandon went on to say that part of the problem of buses being late was “traffic congestion at the four way stop at the entrance to campus, so we got a police officer to direct traffic at peak periods, which has alleviated the situation somewhat. But the intersection needs to be redesigned, and that is another issue which is beyond our control as a Student Association.”

Overall, transit in Peterborough has improved a great deal over the last thirty two years, but it still has a ways to go. Let’s hope that the transit system in Peterborough keeps improving as the student population and the city keeps growing. Transit is the future of transportation! This is one case where I can truly say that I don’t mind letting myself being ‘taken for a ride!’ Next stop City Council! Start writing those letters and e-mails! Don’t take it ‘sitting down!’ (Unless there’s no more seats available leaving from the George street terminal at half-past, then you might just have to ‘rise up!’)