Students in transit

Students take a stand in vocalizing their needs amidst a city-wide review of Kingston’s transit system

AMS Vice-President (Operations) Ken Wang says at $43.50
AMS Vice-President (Operations) Ken Wang says at $43.50

When it comes to transit, students want shorter routes, more frequent stops and later service—something Kingston Transit’s transit service review is trying to make happen.

The review, which started in June, is seeking input from various stakeholders to prepare Kingston Transit’s next business plan when its current one expires in 2011. Making up 23 per cent of the 3.2 million passenger trips made on Kingston Transit each year, Queen’s students are the second-highest demographic of Kingston Transit users next to adults, who make up 45 per cent.

AMS Vice-President (Operations) Ken Wang said the AMS is in its third year of a five-year contract with Kingston Transit to provide full-time students who have validated student cards with the Bus-It service, an unlimited ride pass to use Kingston Transit, in addition to special shuttle routes and drop-off points within the campus and surrounding area.

“Bus-It encompasses all the routes of Kingston transit, including special routes for students like the main campus to west campus shuttles and also the bus that comes through the student village, down Bagot and up University,” he said. “Those are special routes that wouldn’t have been around otherwise.” The mandatory fee will be included for approval on the fall referendum ballot on Oct. 28 and 29.

“The fee is $43.50 this year, and it includes AMS as well as the SGPS, as well as part-time students who opt in,” he said. “Queen’s also gives us a grant for this program of $62,000. The expense for the contract is around the amount of the student fee and a few thousand [dollars] for promotional expenses.”

Wang said compared to students at other universities, Queen’s students pay one of the lowest fees for access to transit.

McMaster University students pay $67.50 for 12 months of use, University of Guelph students pay $119.70 for 12 months of use and University of British Columbia students pay $190 for eight months of use. At the University of Ottawa, where there isn’t a bus program, buying a monthly bus pass for 12 months costs $601.44.

“A monthly [Kingston Transit] pass for an adult is $65, which is obviously more expensive than $43.50 for 12 months … so clearly it’s the cheapest program around,” Wang said.

Wang said he thinks many students may not be aware of the program, something the AMS intends to raise awareness about during the referendum period.

“It runs out of Destinations, so Destinations always has a lot of ad campaigns for it. We also have a bus completely wrapped in our advertising, the biggest component of our advertising,” he said. “During the referendum period, Kingston Transit has given us ad space on some of their buses to promote Bus-It.” Lanie Hurdle, director of project development with the sustainability and growth department of the City of Kingston, said students are a priority for the review committee.

“Looking at a service review, it’s critical that we make sure the service meets the needs of the users,” she said. “Obviously we have to make sure that the service works for the students.”

Hurdle said consultation with representatives from the AMS helped to identify points of improvement from the perspective of students.

“What came out was finding some of the key locations for students that it takes a fairly significant amount of time to get to, like the train station. We had discussions about changing one of the routes that goes through the campus, in terms of extending it,” she said. “The discussions were mainly around the hours of service frequency and the key locations people were trying to get to in a shorter time frame.”

Hurdle said express routes along the busier streets in Kingston were also among the recommendations made through the review.

“There should be more frequent service on some of the main corridors, which we classified as being Princess, Division, Bath, King, John Counter and Gardiners,” she said. “This goes back to the comment we’ve been getting from students that when they want to get to the mall, they take the number 6 [which] goes through smaller areas. There should be a quicker service going along King and Gardiners and not having to go through smaller neighbourhoods.”

Hurdle said any changes to the transit system have to be approved by city council, and will be implemented gradually from now until 2011.

“It needs to start in the planning process. We need to get comments and feedback from people. Once we go back with a proposal, we need to work directly with the different key stakeholders to make sure they distribute the information to their users,” she said. “As well, the publicity needs to be there. It needs to happen not just with marketing, advertisements and the media, but work needs to be done directly with the key users.”

AMS Municipal Affairs Commissioner Paul Tye was part of the consultation with Kingston Transit.

“Over the summer, we had several problems with the Bus-It program, with the bus drivers not knowing what colour sticker to accept,” he said. “Myself and Ken [Wang, AMS vice-president (operations)] and [AMS Retail Services Director] Andrew Cameron started to become fairly vocal, which led to a meeting with all of the people from Kingston Transit. Through that process they realized we were interested in transit moving forward.

“One of the main issues was routes to Via [train station] and routes to the bus station. One of my concerns was no bus going right down Division Street to campus, as well as shorter routes to the Cataraqui Town Centre and movie theatre.” Tye said most of the consultation was done over the summer, with staff members from Destinations acting as a liaison for students.

“We know from the amount of complaints that Destinations gets that students want to be able to get around quicker for accessibility reasons,” he said.

Tye said accessibility can fall under a number of different categories, from economic to physical.

“For a lot of students it’s cheaper to rely on the bus system. Almost 20 per cent of undergraduate students and 40 per cent of graduate students live beyond two kilometres of campus,” he said. “For students with a physical disability it’s much safer, particularly in the winter, that they be able to take public transit as close to campus as possible.” Tye said he sees the AMS’s consultation with Kingston Transit as a positive step forward for town-gown relations.

“As we can continue, I intend on lobbying council when this comes forward,” he said. “As long as we can maintain this momentum, I see it as a victory for co-operation between students and the city.”

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