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Cobourg Transit a sinkhole or a lifesaver?

Some people (members of the Cobourg Taxpayers Assn. amongst others) think that transit is a sinkhole that obviously costs too much and should be abandoned. Others think that  it is an essential service and should be kept. But one thing they agree on is that the design needs to be improved and the whole system is failing.

Up to a couple of years ago Cobourg had a conventional transit system read an old wiki here. One that has fixed routes fixed stops and regular service. But the Transportation Advisory Committee convinced the Council that a move to an “on-demand” system would bring about more efficiencies and lower costs (read the Town’s announcement here). Duh! Complaints abound and the excuses mount up, the latest one being a lack of drivers causing reduced service.

The newly elected Mayor of Cobourg in his first musings of the Budget discussions called the system a “luxury” and proposed cutting it. He then backed off calling his remarks, “asking the hard questions”.

The argument for and against transit is heavily dominated by ideology and dogma. Some people think it is an absolute luxury that cost the taxpayer money for example this comment on the Cobourg News site:

Dave, have you considered the cost of each ride on the bus service? The ridership numbers are available on page 111 of the 2023 Operating Budget Estimates.

2022 55,000 2021 65,990
2020 57,847  2019 112,226 
2018 109,565 2017 113,772 
2016 112,862  2015 111,155

The all in costs of transit (yes, some comes from the province rather than property taxes but it is still our tax money and the provincial money could be used more productively) is about $1.8M each year. That amount includes drivers, selling bus passes, maintenance of buses, maintenance of bus shelters, replacement of old buses, etc.

It is a simple calculation:
$1,800,000 divided by 55,000 is abut $33 and even pre-COVID was over $16 per ride. By buying monthly passes the rider pays $2 for the return trip. Note that is a ONE WAY RIDE so a trip to the grocery by bus costs the taxpayers over $60!

Others take the point of view that this service is essential and is worth paying any kind of money to maintain it. BUT is has to be efficient to reduce the overall costs. That means ridership has to go up and operating costs kept as lean as possible. We know how the fixed system works but the on-demand has a steep learning curve, especially if you are not computer-literate or have do not have a cell-phone. This page on Cobourg.ca explains the system.

The topic of Transit came up again because Cllr. Adam Bureau introduced a motion to add one fixed bus route to the on-demand system. The motion failed. Mayor Cleveland then got into the discussion – taken from CobourgNews: “Mayor Cleveland said that the basic problem was transportation and wanted a different approach. He moved that Council refer the decisions on a hybrid system until 2024 budget deliberations but meanwhile that staff should expedite preparation of a by-law on “Vehicles for Hire, ridesharing and Taxi Licensing” to make more transportation available in Cobourg. Also that the Town should “engage with Northumberland County on discussions on the expansion of Commuter Connect with the Town of Cobourg and County Wide”” His motion passed.

Unfortunately this Millennial way of thinking – “let’s have a user-pay system and Privatize everything” will have the un or intended consequence of diluting the system making the decision to get rid of the system because it costs too much and the ride-share operators have cannibalised the ridership.

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