Grand River Transit (GRT) intends to eliminate bus service to a large section of Route 18, effective April 28.
The section of the route that goes through Guelph Street, east of Lancaster and the location of the emergency food hamper program operated by the House of Friendship, is set to face the axe.
With an annual operating budget of nearly $70 million, the GRT was mandated by the Region to find $1.1 million in savings this year.
Blair Allen, GRT’s acting manager of transit development, said, “We had to look to reduce our budget wherever we could and make efficiency gains, so we looked at a number of routes underperforming … Ridership was just not there, it was relatively low.
“The route is not totally cancelled, it’s basically a restructuring,” Allen said. “We have taken existing Route 4 Glasgow and Route 18 Guelph and amalgamated them into a single route, Route 4, covering as much of Route 18 as possible.”
The restructuring will result in $195,000 in savings for the GRT, representing 20 per cent of the savings Allen said they need to find for the fiscal year.
Alliance Against Poverty (AAP), a grassroots anti-poverty organization working to eliminate poverty by advocating for a more equitable division of wealth, held a demonstration protesting the cut of Route 18 Friday, March 28.
The goal of Friday’s demonstration was to prevent the elimination of the specific bus stop, which goes by the House of Friendship. The group has proposed that the GRT and the region extend Route 6 to cover the bus stop.
In response, Allen said, “The deviation proposed [by the AAP] on Route 6 would miss some important stops on Lancaster if we were to do it properly. Once you start deviating routes, you tend to increase the travel time affecting the viability of the route overall. As a result, you may lose riders by doing that. Over time, we’re trying to get rid of all the strange deviations by creating a more streamlined network, increasing the viability of public transit.”
According to AAP, thousands of low-income KW residents including the unemployed, working poor, new immigrants, refugees, and those relying on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability will be most affected, as they rely most on the emergency food hamper program ran by House of Friendship.
“It has a bus stop at the emergency food hamper program, which is a bimonthly program for low-income people that they’re able to access six times a year,” said Nadine Quehl, a leading member of AAP.
“The most vulnerable members of the community should not be the target of those efficiencies,” she added.
Allen acknowledged the importance of the route.
“That’s one of the challenges with that location … It’s the only stop that has [a] significant amount of ridership on Route 18, and it’s obviously a priority for us to find a way to help those people who use those facilities [of the House of Friendship].
“Any sort of cuts in other regions would have brought to the surface different issues pertaining to the community,” Allen said. “[The] decision was purely based on ridership.”
AAP said the region and the GRT are only now thinking and coming up with alternative solutions when the organization made the intentions of the transit authority public.
Quehl said the Region of Waterloo and the GRT thought they could “sweep the cut of the route under the rug.”
Oscar Colarnell, a member of the organization, a retired professor and Lutheran minister, said, “They did this almost like poor people didn’t exist.”
The organization first found out about the region’s and GRT’s plans when one of their members living in poverty in the area saw a sign near the bus stop.
Quehl said the city did not properly consult and give enough notice to the community.
In response, Allen said, “The budget was approved on Jan. 15, and that’s when we gave public notice, through our website and notice signs around the community.”
The House of Friendship, GRT, and the region will continue to work together to come up with alternatives that benefit all stakeholders involved, said Allen.