‘Good for the city’: Belleville councillor, director of transportation respond to concerns about new transit routes

Photo via City of Belleville

The announcement of new transit routes by the City of Belleville earlier this week has caused concern among some residents who say they render transportation in the city less accessible; but city officials say this is not in fact the case.

As previously reported by Quinteist, on May 6, Belleville transit will introduce eight new routes with the hopes of improving transit services within the growing city. 

However, in response to this announcement, many locals have expressed concern over the new routes, believing that this change will be far from an improvement for the community. This concern has been growing as evidenced through a change.org petition, which was created on April 11 by Cameron Wilson.

“We need to fight for the people who are now unable to use the transit because the stops are now inaccessible for people who use wheelchairs, walkers or canes,” writes Wilson. As of April 18, the petition has garnered 244 signatures. Wilson writes that he aims to present the petition to Belleville City Council in a forthcoming deputation. 

Many of those signing the petition took to the comment section to vehemently share their support for the cause. Sarah Baker writes,

“The City of Belleville is violating the human rights of citizens living in low-income housing, seniors, and the disabled by going forward with this ranch,” writes Sarah Baker. “It is abundantly apparent that they have removed accessible bus stops and routes for these people and created additional boundaries…” 

City Councillor Kathryn Brown, who also serves as the chair of the Transit Advisory Committee spoke with Quinteist to address the complaints that have been circulating online.

“We’re aware of the online survey and regrettably, it is not factual,” Brown said of the petition. 

“The official communication plans for the routes were launched on Monday, April 15 and that package includes updates to our website and people can access the full study with all the data analysis that was collected” she explained.

Brown continued, “We also have route maps for every new route across the city. We have preliminary transit times so people can expect how long it’s going to take to get from destination to destination. We’ll be adding an interactive online map that’s like Google Earth on steroids, where people will be able to find their bus stop and zoom in and have a look at the bus stop itself.

She added that there is also an online transit app that people can use anytime on their smartphones, which will be available as of May 6 when the routes launch.

“Specifically as it relates to our seniors and our riders who use mobility devices, in the consultation process that occurred over the course of 18 months of developing the study determining the routes, we took the final report and reviewed it with the city’s accessibility committee,” Brown explained further. “We also at the same time prepared and have had approved by our council a transit accessibility masterplan.”

In the summer of 2023, Belleville City Council approved the expansion of their mobility transit service, prioritizing accessing those in rural communities that previously were unserviced. Brown elaborated,

“What mobility service offers is that for exactly the same fee as a regular transit user, they will be able to register to become a mobility transit user which provides door-to-door service. People can either go online or by phone and pre-book their transit needs and then literally the bus comes to their front door, picks them up to deliver them to their destination, and returns them if the patron requires it.” 

When asked how they’re handling the influx of citizen concerns, Brown shared, “We are responding to every email we receive, every phone call we receive, and what we typically find when we talk to them is that there’s a great sigh of relief. They’re making assumptions and decisions based on information from people who are not directly involved. Once we’re able to get the correct information to them, they’re happy to understand what it is that we’re trying to achieve.”  

Councillor Brown reiterated that despite the unrest from some citizens, the City of Belleville is currently in the implementation stage at this time and no changes can or will be made to the updated routes.

“We do not think that doing a deputation with the Transit Advisory Committee will be beneficial because we won’t be able to satisfy what it is that the deputation is being called for,” she noted.

“It’s not lost on me that for some it’s going to be a difficult change, so we’re trying to address it in every way we possibly can to get them to the right information,” stated Brown. “For those who will definitely be impacted by having to walk a couple hundred meters more, which is essentially what we’re asking for by creating a bit of distance between the bus stops, there’s an option called the mobility transit service.”

Brown explained that there were two primary objectives in mind when deciding to expand the distance between stops. Firstly, the goal is to improve and shorten the route time for riders. Secondly, the committee hopes that by reducing much of the ‘stopping and starting’ motion on routes, it will reduce the amount of mechanical impact on the vehicles, and subsequently lower maintenance costs. Brown also indicated that having fewer stops will in turn require less diesel and positively impact their environmental footprint. 

Councillor Brown also shared her excitement about implementing a brand new 40-foot hybrid bus, which will soon function as the express bus from the terminal to Loyalist College. This bus will run on solar energy with diesel backup.

“Our two busiest routes in the city are the two routes to Loyalist College every day and our biggest complaint was you could never get on those buses because they were so full of students,” explained Brown.

“We’re going to continue to run those routes but in addition, we’re going to be adding this express bus that will run directly to Loyalist College without stops. We anticipate this will reduce the amount of student riders on the regular routes on a daily basis.”

Photo via City of Belleville

Joseph D. Reid, Director of Transportation and Operations for the City of Belleville, shared his empathy for those who are experiencing confusion and frustration about the upcoming route changes. Reid told Quinteist, “We listen to the residents and while we know there are a number of people who are upset, the vast majority of residents wanted to have quicker service. It is going to be good for the city.” 

Reid said that the previous structure was “decades old,” and they wanted to look at it from a holistic approach to determine “what is the most bang for our buck” while providing the best value.

“We want to be able to provide an efficient operation for the constituents and ratepayers of Belleville,” shared Reid. 

In terms of the next steps, Councillor Brown detailed, “We will have print material going hopefully by the end of this week with all of the new routes. All of our bus drivers will have applications on hand for mobility services. If they have someone that boards a regular transit bus and finds they may be better served with mobility, the driver can give them that application for them to follow up.”

If you seek further information or guidance, Councillor Brown suggests staying up to date with the City of Belleville’s various social media platforms or directly visiting their website and searching “transit routes” in the search engine. This website provides both printable and interactive route maps. 

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