The city of Burlington is located on the north shore of Lake Ontario in southern Ontario, at the western end of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). With a population of about 151,000 in the urban transit area, it is a relatively low-density city without a college or university and the region has the highest percentage of car ownership in the GTA. Not the easiest area for Burlington Transit (BT), operated by the corporation of the city of Burlington, Transit & Traffic Department, to be winning over people to transit.
The city took over the transit system in 1975 and Donna Shepherd, now director of transit and traffic, was appointed to the contract position. “I worked for the city of Burlington in the human resources department,” she says. “I was quite familiar with the transit operations; I was responsible for hiring staff and benefits administration and participated in union negotiations.
“I applied and I was fortunate enough to be appointed to the contract and then became permanent two years later,” she explains. Nine years ago, after being the manager of operations, she became the director of transit and traffic. “My portfolio now is larger in that it has the traffic component as well as traffic control, parking by law enforcement, school crossing guards and downtown parking.”
When talking to Shepherd, it’s about the synergies between the departments and creative marketing that contribute to making it easier to run a transit agency in the typical car-loving suburbs.
“We’re currently exploring opportunities to implement transit signal priority,” says Shepherd. The fact that the signal system is within the Transit and Traffic Department makes it easier for the implementation process. This is just one of the examples Shepherd gives while talking about the collaboration between the different city departments.
The GTA has significant issues with traffic congestion so encouraging alternative modes of transportation is important. “With bike racks on all the buses, it shows the integration between different modes of travel,” she stresses. “We were the first transit system in the Greater Toronto Area to have racks on all the buses.”
BT is focused on generating and increasing ridership. Probably like most of the transit agencies out there. The way BT has gone about it is by developing a variety of target marketing campaigns to increase the different market segments. The examples we discussed were senior riders, students and commuters.
“For this year, for increasing the senior ridership, we’ve actually contacted all of the retirement homes within the city and have offered travel training,” Shepherd explains. “We take a bus out to the retirement center or senior home and illustrate how to ride a bus and how to read a schedule.”
She adds, “We leave the bus on site so they can understand how to get on the bus and how to request a stop.
“We’ve done that this year; we attended eight retirement homes to help with that,” she says.
For its commuters, BT has looked at different ways of engaging people to encourage ridership. On Clean Air Day and July 1st, Canada Day, BT offered free service.
Surveys of riders on Clean Air Day helped BT learn why people were there. Shepherd says they could then see if people took the bus to help the environment or simply because it was free.
“We took the Clean Air Day to market alternative modes plus our transit services,” she says. During the event, BT had marketing tables at both of the GO stations it serves. At the booths people learned about transit and alternative modes of transit and they could get a free cup of coffee and fill out a ballot to win a prize.
The prizes focused on alternative modes of travel. There was a bike package, a roller blade package and a hiking package. As an example, the bike package included a bike, helmet and a water bottle.