Wednesday, July 20, 2005

ban the bus

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Sent to MSU and McMaster administration and parking staff via e-mail
Transportation for Liveable Communities is a volunteer working group of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group at McMaster University. TLC seeks to improve conditions and infrastructure that supports and actively encourages healthy and sustainable transportation modes, including walking, transit, cycling and car pooling.

As TLC understands the issue of the McMaster shuttle bus service to parking zones 6 and 7, there are four buses operating during peak hours. A full loop takes roughly 12 minutes, which puts the service level at a diesel-burning bus every three minutes. On the other hand, students, faculty and staff using the environmentally friendly option of HSR buses face wait times of a significant magnitude longer. If the University is to pursue its stated and worthy goal to reduce SOV use in favour of other modes (McMaster's Environmental Action Plan: "shift 15% of 2004 single-occupant vehicle trips to other modes by 2010"), then the differential between HSR service and Shuttle Bus service needs to be brought into a more equitable balance.

TLC is concerned with the MSU position, as stated in the Sil, that would maintain the status quo, i.e. no reduction of service, no increase in parking fees. Quoting from the Sil article "The bus stops here...for now, July 4, 2005, we are particularly concerned with the following statement: 
"Based on the cost to park in Zones 6 and 7, students are already paying for that service....If any reduction or elimination of service were to happen, it would have to correspond with a significant decrease in the parking fee for that space." (MSU President Tommy Piribauer) 
In regard to the above statement, TLC notes that it is arguable whether or not the costs are being paid.

According the official campus plan, "Parking fees for 11 other universities in both suburban and urban locations in Canada and the United States, have been reviewed...the results show that the minimum parking fees for the Canadian institutions range from $95 per semester (Simon Fraser University, which is in a suburban/rural location) to a high of $250 per semester (University of Ottawa, which is in an urban location and includes structured parking on campus). The American universities surveyed generally have higher parking rates, ranging up to $600 (Canadian) per semester. The parking fees at McMaster range from $45 per semester on West Campus to $144 per semester in Zones 1 and 2....McMaster's current parking fees are significantly less than fees in many other universities. (Campus Master Plan 5:8)"

The true cost of encouraging car use needs to be considered. TLC was pleased to read that the link between transportation and smog was made by McMaster's VP Administration Karen Belaire, a connection that is dangerously overlooked in some discussions on car use. TLC might add that the cost to the public goes further than increased air pollution: we must consider the poisons that leak into the environment from parked cars (oil, gasoline, anti-freeze, washer-, brake-, transmission-fluids, etc.), the burden of costs for emergency services and healthcare costs related to car accidents, and the destruction of sensitive habitat.

For context, it is important to note that the parking areas served by the shuttle bus are, unfortunately, built on the natural flood plain for Ancaster Creek. The McMaster Campus Plan suggests establishing a "minimum 30 metre buffer adjacent to the Ancaster Creek" with enhanced "natural landscapes and habitat," (Figure 4-B, Campus Master Plan), a plan supported by the Hamilton Conservation Authority with an interest in local water quality protection and improvements.

With Canada failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in keeping with our Kyoto commitments, with global climate change looming ever larger, TLC strongly urges the MSU and McMaster Administration to work together to seek a reasonable course of action to address this looming catastrophe: cutting back on the white bus service to one bus every 12 minutes would go a long way toward encouraging drivers to seek alternative means (bus, bicycle, car-pool) thereby contributing to our ability to meet our Kyoto commitments.

The significance of this action should not be discounted: "Vehicles are the number one source of smog producing pollutants in North America." (Ontario Ministry of Transportation.) Reducing the shuttle service would lead to improved local air quality and provide the University with significant savings financially, the current service costs for the shuttle bus expected to rise over the current half a million dollar a year ($530,000 per year, Sil July 4, 2005) to $600,000.

TLC is very interested in the outcome of these deliberations, and would appreciate being kept appraised of developments and any opportunities for consultation.

Randy Kay (for TLC)