The secret behind Brampton’s transit success

via TVO

ANALYSIS: Public transit ridership is stagnating across North America, but in Brampton, it’s on the rise. Here’s why

Brampton, population 600,000, is a fast-growing city northwest of Toronto. It boasts a charming downtown core that predates Toronto’s post-war growth, but, like so many other suburban communities, it is made up primarily of subdivisions with single-family homes, big-box retail outlets, and business parks full of nondescript warehouses and industrial malls. Its wide, six-lane roads are jammed with cars and trucks. But Brampton has what most suburbs don’t: a thriving local transit system.

In October 2015, in a divisive 6-5 decision, Brampton City Council rejected provincial funding for a segment of the planned Hurontario-Main LRT that would have connected downtown Brampton — and its GO station — with Port Credit in Mississauga. The project had the support of Brampton’s mayor, Linda Jeffrey, but prominent residents, such as former Premier Bill Davis and members of the local business community opposed it, claiming the LRT would disrupt the historic downtown core and cause traffic congestion, and raising concerns about the cost of operation. Some observers, such as writer Noreen Ahmed-Ullah, saw the divisive vote as evidence of a conflict between Brampton’s older white establishment and its younger South Asian and Black residents. As things stand now, the light-rail line — which begins construction in 2018 — will terminate in Brampton’s south end, at Steeles Avenue. The city is now studying alternative, less direct routes to bring the light-rail line into the downtown core.

But when it comes to local transit, the city is exceeding expectations and bucking a worrying trend across Ontario and North America, where ridership is stagnating. In 2016, the Toronto Transit Commission’s ridership grew by only 0.1 per cent: in 2016, total ridership was 538 million. In Hamilton, ridership dropped by 1.8 per cent, or 435,000 trips, despite some service improvements. In Burlington, the drop was five per cent. MiWay (Mississauga Transit), GO Transit, and York Region Transit did see modest ridership increases, but in Durham Region — another fast-growing suburban area — ridership fell by 1.1 per cent.

In 2016, though, Brampton Transit’s annual ridership rose to 23.1 million, an increase of 9.2 per cent over 2015. Between January and October 2017, ridership was up by nearly 19 per cent over the same months from the previous year. The projected annual ridership for 2017 is 27.2 million.  

This impressive feat cannot simply be explained by population growth. The city’s population increased by 13.3 per cent from 2011 to 2016: during the same period of time, Brampton Transit ridership increased by 41.6 per cent.