Peterborough Transit faces a reckoning.
Debate continues to swirl over the current route system, which was hastily introduced partly as a pandemic measure in 2020 and occasionally tweaked since then.
Meanwhile, repeating waves of bus cancellations — caused by a driver shortage, the City says — have shaken riders’ faith in the reliability of the service.
And earlier this year, city council voted to freeze Peterborough Transit’s funding for 2023 at 2022 levels, despite warnings from city staff that this would lead to significant service cuts. Earlier this month, staff came back with a report recommending the following cuts as a way to address the budget shortfall:
- Eliminating all bus service (except routes 5 and 6) on Sundays
- Eliminating all bus service (except routes 5 and 6) on Saturday evenings
- Eliminating all bus service on statutory holidays
- Eliminating the Community Bus service
Although the cutbacks were proposed as a direct result of council’s decision to freeze transit funding, councillors voted earlier this month to defer a decision on whether to implement them. They said they wanted to give the newly-formed transit liaison committee a chance to weigh in. But the clock is ticking: without additional funding, significant cuts are likely to come sooner or later.
Peterborough Currents wanted to hear from the people most impacted by all of this uncertainty: transit riders. So we took to the streets and introduced ourselves to riders as they waited at their bus stops.
Read on to meet five local transit riders, and to learn where they go on the bus and how the proposed cutbacks might impact them.
Pat Wagar: “Community Buses can sometimes be filled right to the brim.”
Pat Wagar stood outside the Brooklawn apartment building, where she lives, for about an hour on Victoria Day Monday waiting for the Red Community Bus. She was going to visit a friend downtown, and hoped to practise track and field in the park on the way home if she had time.
But Wagar’s plans were dashed when Currents informed her that the Red Community Bus doesn’t run on statutory holidays.
Wagar wasn’t the only one waiting outside the Brooklawn apartment building, which is home to 100 units of affordable seniors’ housing operated by the Peterborough Housing Corporation. Three others were waiting for the out-of-service bus, too.
When it’s operating, the Red Community Bus is Wagar’s go-to route, because it stops right outside her building and “goes everywhere I need to go,” she said. The Real Canadian Superstore, her favourite grocery store, is on the route, and so is her friend’s house and the hospital. “It goes everywhere.”
More generally, Wagar said she uses the bus for “shopping, going to visit my son and my grandson in the south end, my clinic visits, my doctor visits.”
The only other route she uses regularly is the #2. She said she catches it on Reid Street, and rides it almost to the last stop, where she gets off and then walks a few extra blocks to her son’s house.
Wagar has heard about the plans to potentially eliminate the Community Bus routes, and she hopes it doesn’t happen. “I would like it if they left this thing alone.”
“These Community Buses can sometimes be filled right to the brim,” she said. And the stop outside her building is “always busy,” she’s noticed.
But if the route does end up getting eliminated, Wager has a back up plan. “My son just got a car,” she said with a chuckle. “So I might be lucky.”
Navjot Kaur: “I basically get the tour of [the] whole city while going home.”
Navjot Kaur travels to all corners of the city on her commute home from work.
When her shift at Fairhaven long-term care home finishes at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays, most transit routes have stopped running for the day. So Kaur uses an app on her phone to book a ride home with Peterborough Transit’s on-demand service.
The on-demand bus weaves around Peterborough without a fixed route, picking up and dropping off passengers who have requested rides via an app or by phone call.
“I basically get the tour of [the] whole city while going home,” Kaur said.
She said the trip from Fairhaven, in the north end, to her home in the south end is usually 30 minutes or more – but the route to get there is never the same.
Kaur likes that the on-demand bus picks her up right out front of her work and drops her off at a bus stop just steps from her front door. But she wishes she didn’t have to travel all around the city to get to her destination.
“It takes long time,” Kaur said. “If I book a cab or anything it’s gonna take me more money. So either spend more money or spend more time.”
Kaur said if the proposed transit cuts go ahead it will make it even harder for transit riders like her to get around. “The service is already so constricted,” she said. “So if they are gonna constrict it more, it’s gonna be so inconvenient for students or like every other person who [doesn’t] have a car.”
While she uses the on-demand service to get home in the evenings, she said she has to rely on her brother to drive her to work during the day because afternoon bus service is too infrequent.
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Amanda Hall: “That’s going to make it so I’m basically homebound on Sundays.”
On Friday morning last week, Amanda Hall stepped off the #2 at the corner of George and Lansdowne and began her short walk home. It was about 9:30 a.m., and Hall had just gotten off work — her first of two shifts that day.
“I generally take the #2,” Hall said. “I take it to work everyday, twice a day, because I work a split shift at Roger Neilson [Public School]. I’m there at 6:30 in the morning until 9:00 and then I go back again for 3:00.”
Hall is an early childhood educator who provides before and after school care. She said the #2 route works well for her, “most of the time.” Though she said there was a challenging period this winter when she was often late for work because her bus was often cancelled.
The bus is Hall’s “main form of transportation,” she said. In addition to using it to get to work, she said she uses it to go shopping and do other activities.
Hall has disabilities and breathing troubles that make it hard for her to walk long distances, she said, and she doesn’t have a car. “So I use the bus quite a bit.”
Currents informed Hall of the proposal to cut back bus service. One of the proposed changes is to eliminate almost all bus service on Sundays, including along the three routes that pass near Hall’s home.
“That’s ridiculous,” she said. “We have too much of an elderly population and a lot of people like me — that’s the only way I get around … So that’s going to make it so I’m basically homebound on Sundays. That doesn’t make me very happy at all.”
Instead of cutbacks, Hall said she wants to see “more reliability” from the bus system. “It gets hard when it’s what you rely on to get back and forth somewhere and it’s not on time or it’s early or it doesn’t show up.”
Reid: “How many people on city council don’t use cars?”
Reid sat on his walker and waited for the bus outside his apartment on George Street last Friday morning. “I’m going to the library,” he said. “That’s where I access broadband.”
Reid said he’s learned to live with less-than-satisfactory bus service, and he doesn’t think the City is going to improve it any time soon. “It’s all we’ve got,” he said. “I stopped whining about it a long time ago.”
That’s because Reid believes the root of the problem lies in city planning decisions that were made decades ago. “You’ve got a serious problem baked into this city, and it’s called sprawl,” he said. Peterborough is too spread out, Reid believes, and that drives up the cost of servicing the entire city with transit. Without raising taxes, it will be impossible to provide high-quality service to the whole city, he said.
But Reid has a different frustration with Peterborough Transit, and that’s the fact that the City hasn’t started replacing its diesel transit fleet with electric buses. “I’m a climatologist by training,” he explained. “I’m a scientist.”
Reid was upset when the last city council decided to purchase more diesel buses instead of electric ones. “The former council did not do the right thing.”
Now, he wishes city councillors would set a better example, and ride bikes around town. “How many people on city council don’t use cars?” he asked. “They’re not setting the tone.”
“Nobody’s ever going to get a handle on [transit] in this city,” Reid said. “You ask 1,000 people, you’ll get 1,000 different opinions.”
Jane Menogue: “People count on that bus coming round.”
A couple times a week, Jane Menogue grabs her collapsible shopping cart, puts on a face mask and heads to the bus stop outside her Donegal Street apartment building.
That’s where Currents caught up with her as she waited to catch the Red Community Bus (Route 23) on a recent Tuesday afternoon. Menogue likes the route because it takes her from her front door right to the entrance of some of her favourite stores, without having to make any transfers.
“I’ve got this bus stop figured out because it goes all the way down to Lansdowne Place and out to Freshco,” she said.
But other stores she wants to visit – like Morello’s Your Independent Grocer and Giant Tiger, on opposite ends of Lansdowne Street – are harder to reach by transit, she said.
“I just haven’t a clue how to get there and how many buses or transfers it’ll take,” she said. “Some people say you can go on your app on your phone and find the way, but I don’t understand how it works.”
Menogue is worried about having a repeat of something that happened last December. She was riding one of the regular routes when her connecting bus was cancelled. She had to take the on-demand bus, which ferried her all over the city before finally dropping her off at her building. “I was three hours getting home,” she said.
Transfers have been a barrier to getting around for Menogue in Peterborough. But transfers themselves aren’t necessarily the problem. She lived with her son in Toronto for several years while battling cancer, before moving back to Peterborough last year. She rode the TTC all the time and found it easy to hop between routes. But in her hometown, it’s not so easy. Routes here are “starting to be complicated,” she said.
Now, Menogue is bracing for the potential loss of the community bus route she relies on, if the transit cuts proposed by city staff go ahead.
“People count on that bus coming around,” she said. “If they took it off I don’t know what people would do.”