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Bus shortage a symptom of council not being proactive, says transit advocate

Buses sit outside at the over capacity Transit Windsor garage. (Chris Ensing/CBC - image credit)
Buses sit outside at the over capacity Transit Windsor garage. (Chris Ensing/CBC - image credit)

A public transit advocacy group believes council and city staff should have anticipated potential challenges with Transit Windsor's buses after years of warnings.

Some high frequency routes have had service reduced because numerous buses in the city's aging fleet require repairs that are delayed by broken hoist equipment at the city's over-capacity transit garage.

At times this month, the service has been short of its minimum service requirements by 20 buses, with six of 13 repair hoists broken.

Transit Windsor Executive Director Tyson Cragg told CBC News last week it would be a short-term issue that results in some high-frequency routes noticing service cuts.

Nate Hope said he's noticed a change in service on the routes that he uses.
Nate Hope said he's noticed a change in service on the routes that he uses.

Nate Hope said he's noticed a change in service on the routes that he uses. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Nate Hope with the Activate Transit Windsor Essex group says he's noticed a change.

He said buses that usually arrive every fifteen minutes could take twice as long.

"There's real problems that are happening."

Mayor surprised by service interruptions

Mayor Drew Dilkens told reporters that he did not know about the problems with the bus service and that he would expect to be notified of major disruptions.

"Those issues had never been raised up to my attention and so quite surprised to see that," he said.

"We would expect the executive director of transit to be working on it and if there were issues to raise them up to our office."

But Hope said that city council should have seen this coming based off a number of staff reports highlighting issues with the service's infrastructure.

"We've known this for a long time. It's just we're starting to see some of the results of not acting on it."

Past warnings of inadequate infrastructure 

The council-approved transit master plan completed in 2019 listed improvements to the maintenance and storage facility as an urgent requirement of the highest priority.

Council voted against building a new garage for $191 million and in favour of spending $100 million to upgrade terminals throughout the city, bus shelters and replacing buses.

Most of that money is from the federal government, with $28.9 million coming from the city.

When making that decision, council reviewed a consultant's report that described the current garage as having "a wide range of deficiencies in both the building condition and its design."

The report highlighted inadequate bus storage with 21 buses stored outside, inadequate heating, ventilation and air conditioning and that most of the equipment used to repair and fix buses would need to be replaced.

The work would "require significant expenditures over the next few years" with costs estimated at $43.3 million as of 2021.

"If I spend $130 million to build a transit garage not a single person who uses the system will see a single improvement because we have a larger building to park the buses and fix the buses," said Dilkens after council's vote in 2022.

"The stuff we're approving here tonight will actually be stuff the users see and benefit from on a daily basis," he continued at the time.

Hope said what transit users are experiencing now is a result of a council that is aware of the issues but not acting fast enough.

"I think they all recognize that these things need to be changed on that's not sufficient as it is right now," he said.

"We gotta be proactive instead of reactive."