Students in transit

Next year, a new express route will accommodate growing ridership

Christine Brazeau drives Routes 2 and 6 for Kingston Transit, taking student commuters from west campus to main campus daily.
Christine Brazeau drives Routes 2 and 6 for Kingston Transit, taking student commuters from west campus to main campus daily.

Jonathan Wall is moving from Jean Royce Hall to Leonard Hall today. He requested a room switch because he was fed up with the commute from west campus to main campus.

“I have to wake up 30 minutes earlier than anyone else on main to get to classes,” Wall, ArtSci ’15, said, adding that he’s been left behind by buses filled to capacity.

“It happens,” Wall said. “You just wait by the bus stop and hope for the best.”

According to a representative from Kingston Transit, it’s a rare occurrence.

Christine Brazeau has driven the west to main campus bus route for more than a year.

She pulls up to the Union Street stop in front of west campus every morning at 8:15 a.m. Over 40 students rely on her to make their 8:30 a.m. classes on main campus.

There has been a three per cent increase in ridership per year over the past five years. In response to this growth, Kingston Transit is planning to add an express route in 2013 for student passengers. Ten buses will be added to the route and Kingston Transit will lengthen service hours.

The route will take students directly from campus to amenities like the Cataraqui Town Centre.

The addition was voted for unanimously by Kingston city council in September after a transit review in 2010 showed room for improvement.

From Sept. 19 to 25, there were 3,478 trips from west campus to stops throughout Kingston.

Queen’s added an extra bus to their transit line-up in the mid-1990s after ridership increased in west campus to main campus travel. Passengers traveling between west campus and main campus board on buses as part of Routes 2 or 6, which travel from St. Lawrence to Queen’s and through the downtown core. The buses, with a capacity of approximately 40 people, couldn’t fit all of the waiting patrons during peak hours in the morning, after lunch and in the evening after classes end. Commuters, including students, would sometimes be left behind.

According to Brazeau, 85 to 90 per cent of morning commuters on her route are students.

“There’s a lot more you have to watch out for,” Brazeau said during our ride-along. “Like the last stop on Bader Lane, there was a young lady that ... got off and walked right in front of the bus.”

Brazeau said students sometimes forget basic safety in the mornings.

“[Driving is] very hairy with the bikes and the long boards and the rollerblades and the people,” she said.

“Quite often, my main problem is at intersections ... [Students are] not aware of what they’re doing because they’re so distracted.” Working on the west to main campus route means Brazeau meets mostly first-year students. Queen’s rented 16 city buses for the Kingston-by-Bus tour in Frosh Week — an attempt to introduce new students to the city transit system.

Brazeau doesn’t only pick up students at designated bus stops. She said she often stops to pick up students who seem lost or disoriented. She’s even picked up strays after service hours.

“All our drivers are like that,” she said. “Our job is to get you from point A to point B as pleasantly as possible.”

She recalled dropping off partygoers directly to their destination, even though it was off the regular route.

“I radio dispatched the supervisor to ask if I could get these ladies where they had to go,” she said. “The supervisor said [it was] no problem, and we got the two people there without incident.”

In her first year with Kingston Transit, Brazeau drove the Queen’s evening shuttle route — an additional route that’s been operating since the late ‘90s.

From 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., the evening shuttle connects main and west campus to Kingston’s downtown core.

“When I did the evenings last year, people didn’t really know that that run was going, or what times it went,” Brazeau said. “By the end of the time I was doing it, I was getting more and more people out all the time.”

According to Kingston Transit project manager Jeremy DaCosta, the additional evening shuttle was completely AMS-funded.

“[It’s] more about providing a safe means of allowing students to move between locations,” he said.

DaCosta said the AMS will usually consult him on transit decisions that influence student riders.

He helped negotiate Route 18 last year. The addition provides service directly from west and main campus to the Kingston bus terminal on John Counter Blvd. and Kingston’s Via Rail train station.

“The introduction last year of the new train station route ... was a direct result of a request from the AMS to add that service,” he said.

Typically, four buses run between St. Lawrence College, Queen’s west campus and main campus every hour. Another is added during peak hours in the morning.

“This is probably the busiest time of day because there’s a combination of Queen’s students, St. Lawrence students and regular business commuters,” he said.

A bus usually arrives every 15 minutes. When extra buses are added to the corridor, they arrive every 10 minutes, DaCosta said.

He said extra buses run before holidays when students are funneling to bus and train stations to travel home. There are additional buses during exams as well.

“When you see that concentration at exam time and midterm time as well ... we change the way the buses run the corridor,” DaCosta said. “We stack the buses up on Union Street and have them ready to move everybody for that 9 a.m. exam.”

Sometimes a fellow driver will radio the entire fleet about a large group of commuters that were left behind. During our morning ride, the bus took a detour to pick up a group of about 20 passengers at a downtown stop, deviating from the usual Queen’s to St. Lawrence College route.

The extra bus doesn’t operate on a fixed schedule, DaCosta said. Adjustments are made according to what passengers need.

“The extra bus is really a flexible bus depending on what we see happening on campus,” he said. “As we get going through September, [student ridership] starts to level off and we start ... to understand what’s happening every day of the week.”

The City’s Report to Environment, Infrastructure & Transportation Policies Committee described express routes as “typically designed with a less frequent stop spacing (900m to 1200m) to allow for faster travel times and more direct travel.”

“What it’ll mean is we’re separating commuter from student,” DaCosta said.

Students aren’t the only ones expressing concerns about commuting in Kingston, DaCosta said.

“The complaint we probably get most often at the beginning of the year is actually from parents,” he said, adding that he spoke to at least two parents after first-year residence assignments were doled out last summer.

“They’ll often call us and ask what [living on west campus] means and how do they get to campus,” he said. “We talk about the service [and] the late night shuttle ... as a means of providing a reliable, safe means of getting from west campus to main campus.

“[We focus on] being able to get them back to west campus safely so they can be part of the main campus activities, but continue to live at west.”

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