Toronto

Brampton making largest transit service hour increase in years, advocates say it won't be enough

A pre-budget report this year shows Brampton needs other levels of government to fund 50 per cent, or $1.65 billion for its transit projects like a tunnel for the LRT, a Bus Rapid Transit on Queen Street and additional funds for its transition to electric buses.

2024 budget includes additional 108,500 transit service hours, 136 bus drivers, 83 buses

E-bikes Go train.
Brampton has about 700,000 people and saw a 30 per cent increase in ridership last year compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to city documents. (Saloni Bhugra/CBC)

Brampton is set to make the largest increase in transit service hours in 15 years as part of its 2024 budget, but transit advocates say it will take years before the city catches up to the growing ridership. 

Being one of the fastest growing municipalities in the country, and with growing concerns around affordability, there is an unprecedented demand for transit services in Brampton.

Brampton transit ridership is currently up 30 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, city staff told CBC Toronto in an email statement. But its budget shows the city is investing the same amount in its transit operational funding as the previous year. 

"This overall increase in demand has now used up most of the excess capacity that was in the system before the pandemic," staff said. 

To address this, the city's 2024 budget includes plans to add 108,500 transit revenue service hours and 136 bus drivers. It's also hoping to add 83 buses at a cost of $78 million, and will invest $4 million in bus service expansion along Bramalea Road by the end of this year. This represents the largest increase in service hours in over 15 years, city staff said

"Brampton Transit is now in the midst of an aggressive hiring plan," staff said. 

While the city is making "great" attempts to meet the increased demand and ridership, Brampton transit advocate and former Brampton Transit Advisory Committee member Sylvia Menezes Roberts estimates it would need 100,000 more service hours to actually do so.

The city is still lagging behind because "even before the pandemic, we simply were not keeping up with ridership," she said.  

Brampton has about 700,000 people with 45 million annual trips last year, according to city documents.

"This isn't a skill issue, it's not a competence issue, it's just that we do not have sufficient resources to accommodate demand currently and despite this year being our largest ever service increase, it is still insufficient," she said. 

The city's investments might fix the service cuts from the pandemic years when there were revenue losses, but will not necessarily meet the new demand, said Jon MacMull, spokesperson for the national urban transit group Canadian Urban Transit Association, which advocates for government investment in public transit. 

Sylvia Menezes Roberts
Brampton transit advocate Sylvia Menezes Roberts says with a 30 per cent increase in ridhership compared to pre-pandemic levels, the city has not kept up with the 'crazy' growth in demand. (Saloni Bhugra/CBC)

Brampton lost about 50 per cent of its ridership during 2020 and 2021, according to a city report, but experienced quick recovery in 2022 and 2023, when it exceeded pre-pandemic ridership numbers. 

"There's been significant losses, losses in revenue… if you cut routes, your transit is less frequent and less reliable. And then that creates a downward spiral where people might not want to take the service anymore," he said. 

Transit capital funding issues loom 

While the city made investments into training more operators and adding buses, it also cut its transit capital budget this year by $44 million, which city staff said is due to a change in "bus requirements." 

That cut also comes when the city's pre-budget report this year shows it only has 50 per cent of the money — or $1.65 billion —  for its transit projects like a LRT surface alignment, a Bus Rapid Transit on Queen Street and additional funds for its transition to electric buses, and would need the province to fund its plans for a $2.8 billion tunnel for the LRT. The city's budget shows it has currently secured $83 million in capital funding from the provincial and federal government. 

In the short term, operational shortcomings and lack of capital funding for Brampton transit can be dealt with using "two levers" — increasing fares and cutting service, neither of which are ideal, MacMull said

Brampton increased its transit fare by 10 per cent last year.  

"We don't want to reduce service because that is a big impediment to people using the service and fare increases are also impacting affordability," Macmull said.

Service improvements will be rolled out in spring, summer, and fall this year, city staff told CBC Toronto.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Saloni Bhugra

Reporter | Editor

Saloni Bhugra joined CBC News as a Donaldson Scholar in May 2022. She has since worked with News Network, World Report, World This Hour, and CBC Calgary. Bhugra established a permanent CBC bureau in Lethbridge until she returned to Toronto and started working with Metro Morning. Bhugra is now CBC's Brampton bureau reporter. Contact her by email at Saloni.bhugra@cbc.ca.