Here we are again – I’m waiting for the 201 bus with 10 other people and it rolls up seven minutes late, absolutely packed. We all try to squeeze in, but people refuse to go to the back and the chaos makes for an overall bad experience. All routes through University District are getting busier around the clock, and it’s not a rare occurrence to see a packed bus even at 10 p.m. on University Ave.
GRT recently has seen a record number of boardings, hitting 150,000 boardings a day and 2.9 million total for September 2023 – the highest in its history. GRT is seemingly struggling with success as it rushes to find enough drivers and buses to run its service. This has led to passenger frustration to the point that it’s time to ask Grand River Transit – where are the higher capacity buses that were promised?
For the many coming from places other than KW, you are probably familiar with an articulating bus or ‘bendy bus’ as some people like to say – longer buses with an articulating bellow in the middle and an extra door, with the ability to board passengers quicker through all door boarding and have higher capacity than a standard bus. GRT originally stated back in 2019 that bendy buses would be procured and go into service in 2021, with a planned nine total bendy buses to be ordered by the end of 2023. I understand that COVID-19 and supply chain issues would delay the buses, but there have not been any updates since 2022 about the new buses since the opening of the Northfield bus maintenance facility built specifically with these bendy buses in mind. Even back then, GRT was saying this was necessary to speed up boarding and prevent bus ‘bunching’ (which is when two buses are stuck behind one another due to traffic or boarding delays). Yet ridership is now above pre-pandemic levels with no larger buses in sight.
A statement from GRT says that they have “deferred the procurement of articulated buses to 2027 to allow time to prepare bus stops to accommodate longer buses and to evaluate whether the buses should be hybrid or electric.”
GRT has chalked it up to more infrastructure improvements needed to accommodate the buses. Now they’re focusing more on their battery electric bus pilot fleet rather than expediting the launch of bendy buses to increase capacity on these critical routes across the region with the funding they have. While a commitment to lowering emissions is a great goal, the investment in infrastructure and the clear need for higher capacity on critical bus routes, and the fact that taking transit is overall better for the environment, makes it feel like the focus on electric buses was the wrong move to fix the issues GRT has right now. There should be no delay in improving Waterloo region’s bus system to serve this growing region better.