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Little hope for overnight transit

By Ryan Flanagan
Kitchener Post staff

Although there’s ultimately nothing but political will precluding buses or LRT vehicles from running 24-hour schedules, anyone hoping for overnight service has little reason for optimism.

A clause in the request for qualifications issued to prospective LRT bidders last month lays out 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. as the LRT’s operating hours, but transportation officials say the region is able to change that schedule however it wants.

“We will have the ability to change the schedules within the contract we have, but clearly it would cost us more money,” said Thomas Schmidt, the region’s commissioner of transportation and environmental services.

“Right now we are looking at stopping at 1 a.m.”

When it comes to buses, it’s the same tune. While there are plans to redesign many GRT routes to better fit with LRT once it begins operation in 2017, Schmidt said the hours of operation are unlikely to change.

“Basically it would run the same and we’d have close alignment between the two,” he said.

Currently, most major bus routes start running around 5:30 a.m. and carry through to about 1 a.m. Smaller routes within neighbourhoods often run shorter schedules, with many stopping before 7 p.m.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, a late-night loop takes passengers between downtown Kitchener, uptown Waterloo and the university areas until 2 a.m.

There’s nothing stopping Grand River Transit from changing those times, but there’s also no plans for them to do so — mostly because they don’t anticipate a lot of people lining up to use buses at 3 a.m.

“Part of the problem is that clearly the ridership falls off at a certain point,” said Schmidt.

Tim Mollison, a spokesperson for the transit activist group TriTAG, says it’s difficult to tell what level the ridership would be at without first trying overnight service.

“There is a question to be asked about whether there is no ridership because the service is not being provided,” he said.

Mollison said before adding late-night service, he’d prefer to see the smaller neighbourhood routes extended into the evening and to see GRT classify all their routes under two or three broad categories.

“GRT needs to classify certain routes as high-frequency routes, it needs to classify certain routes as late-night routes. Once we develop an objective service standard against which we can measure all of the routes that we have, then we can start talking about which ones warrant 24-hour service,” he said.

When it comes to LRT, Mollison said he sees potential in running trains all night long, even if not accompanied by buses.

“If [a rider] had to complete the rest of the trip, they’d take a $6 or $8 cab ride from the station they get off at,” he said.

“Contrast this with how much it would cost them to ride a taxi from Cambridge to Kitchener — you’re still providing a useful service.”

Schmidt said he isn’t aware of any union issues which would stand in the way of a move to round-the-clock service.

“We already have people working night- shift hours. It would be a different shift, there might be premiums involved, but that would all have to go through the collective bargaining process,” he said.

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