Under Patrick Brown another badly needed piece of Brampton Transit infrastructure remains underfunded
Travelling on a cramped bus, shoulder to shoulder with dozens of other riders is common for commuters on Brampton Transit.
Budget cuts forced by Patrick Brown have left the system with insufficient resources to match the surging demand for service. Routine bus delays, no-shows, long wait times and a lack of amenities like functioning heaters at bus shelters during the frigid Canadian winter months are among the many gaps being reported.
The city has also fallen far behind other municipalities that are rapidly greening their transit fleet with electrified vehicles, while Brampton can’t even afford facilities required to house and maintain them.
Buses and route service are directly linked to Brampton Transit’s ability to store and maintain its vehicle fleet. Since Brown’s arrival in 2018, when he promised budget freezes to help win the mayor’s seat, City Council has ignored critical infrastructure investments needed to expand transit service, with projects repeatedly delayed. The situation has only gotten worse as plans for a third transit maintenance facility do not have the required funding budgeted, creating the risk of further delays as the city’s transit system continues to deal with what staffers in 2019 referred to as “crush capacity”.
The City of Brampton currently operates two transit maintenance facilities, Sandalwood and Clark. Plans for a third facility have been repeatedly delayed. Documents from almost a decade ago recommended a new facility be completed by 2021, an opening date that was then delayed until 2024. Thanks to Brown’s repeated budget freezes, or inadequate revenue plan for the city, as well as mismanagement that has seen funding applications mishandled, the new facility may not be completed until 2027, and that’s only if council can come up with the money to pay for it. The repeated delays have seen “market escalation” push the price over-budget, according to a November staff report.
The city’s population is growing rapidly, but the underfunded transit system is failing to keep up under Brown. According to City data, average ridership for Brampton Transit in 2022 was 2,610,000 per month (averaging 602,000 weekly). From 2021 to 2022, ridership grew by 61 percent. The trend continued with ridership increasing from 1,641,260 in January 2022 to 3,082,775 in January of last year. Unlike some other cities in the GTHA who are seeing their ridership return more to pre-pandemic levels, Brampton’s has seen its skyrocket.
Buses on many routes in the city are regularly packed. Commuters are often forced to stand inches apart from one another. Some routes, such as the 7/7A along Kennedy Road, have experienced such overcrowding that at peak times, residents waiting at upcoming stops watch crammed buses pass them by as there is simply no room left to safely hold any more people. A lack of appropriate service is not only frustrating for residents looking to get to school, work or other various destinations on time and comfortably, but it also presents a serious challenge for accessibility, with people using mobility devices, pushing strollers or travel carts, or seniors and people with disabilities and unique needs facing these barriers to accessing bus service equitably.
According to the 2021 Statistics Canada Census, public transit users made up the second largest portion of the city’s labour force, 10.4 percent, who commute to work using that method after the 77 percent who use cars, trucks or vans. For Brampton’s population who rely on public transit, the two bus storage and maintenance facilities that currently exist are not enough. Brampton’s only facilities are located at 185 Clark Boulevard and 130 Sandalwood Parkway West. A new third facility was originally approved in 2019 and was planned for 2021, but the project was delayed until 2024, citing a need for additional funding at the time.
In June of 2020, the City announced its intention to build the new major electric bus storage and maintenance facility, but the plans depended on receiving funding from upper levels of government. Discussions around giving Brampton more storage and maintenance facilities for its buses goes back to 2015, when the City’s master plan highlighted a need for two additional bus garages, for 2021 and 2028, in order to prevent “crush capacity” which it said could happen by 2023. However, the master plan’s recommendation for a separate third facility and then an additional fourth were foregone in 2019 under Brown, who ignored the overwhelming need for a new facility as soon as possible and directed council to instead move away from that plan and build one, larger facility, pushing the timeline into 2024.
To justify the bottlenecking delays to the project, Brown previously claimed removing the funding from previous budgets was necessary as he was securing funds from higher levels of government to electrify the new facility in order for it to accommodate electric buses. This never happened. The staff report says the City is still searching for funding to electrify the facility.
In April of 2021, the provincial and federal government announced an investment of $128 million into a new third Brampton Transit facility, after the City submitted a funding application to the federal Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program in October 2019 for $174.8 million toward its Phase 1 construction. A press release states the project would involve constructing the roughly 400,000 square foot operation with “up to 36 maintenance bays and approximately 40 overhead garage doors to accommodate up to 250 standard 40 foot equivalent buses, in addition to administrative and maintenance support space.” It notes the City of Brampton was still seeking $150 million at the time in additional funding to “electrify the facility” and stated the $125 million in funding would help cover Phase 1 construction costs, with this first of two phases estimated for “late 2024.”
Overfilled buses make transit less accessible for all commuters and reveal how service capacity is lacking in Brampton.
(The Pointer Files)
This financial support was awarded following mayor Patrick Brown’s cut of $135 million from the 2020 budget meant to build the storage base in 2024. Brown has repeatedly frozen taxes, and even removed the new facility from the 2019 budget, with these moves aimed at promoting his election promise to provide tax freezes for residents. A rise in the 2023 transit budget, from a projected $112 million to $275 million, seemed to have to do with the additional $150 million it was seeking from the provincial and federal government, allocated to the new Brampton Transit facility’s electrification, although it was not approved.
Now, a City of Brampton staff report has revealed plans for the already delayed new Brampton Transit Facility have encountered further disruption, with its current $189.7 million budget identified as “insufficient” to complete its “building construction portion.” The report states the increase is “attributed primarily to market escalation, the addition of enhanced energy performance requirements and the additional requirements to future-proof for a battery electric bus fleet.” The City is planning for a budget amendment request in mid-2024 for the remaining funding to complete the project. The report states the additional need is also due to increased “foundations and earthworks requirements; additional maintenance space for increased 60-foot bus fleet; additional construction outside property boundaries and intersections; and additional EV car charging.” The staff report does not state how much additional funding will be required.
The plan to build a third facility requires a construction manager and the report states that process is still “ongoing,” with an RFP to hire one issued in June and anticipated to be awarded in the first quarter of 2024. This would be a three-stage agreement, with the third stage, primary construction of the building and remaining development, “not to be awarded until after a planned budget amendment request in mid-2024, which is subject to Council approval,” it states.
More bus storage and maintenance facilities are needed in order to increase transit service and meet the needs of Brampton’s growing population.
(The Pointer Files)
While this phased approach is planned to “expedite the project schedule,” with the report highlighting that early construction will be able to proceed “prior to full funding being in place,” it is unclear how the City will approach completing the project after already getting through the first and second phases—pre-construction consultation and early works to develop the site—if existing funding is insufficient and additional funding is not secured. The report states that if the building construction stage does not receive the additional funding approval, there will be “sunk construction costs.” The Pointer has asked the City how it plans to complete the project if it does not secure the necessary additional funding for the primary construction phase as well as what will happen to the project if funding is not secured and those sunken construction costs are incurred. The City did not respond to The Pointer’s request by publication.
It is unclear where the City plans to get the additional funding for the project. The report states that money from the federal and provincial governments is “not currently available to assist with the funding shortfall,” noting staff will “continue to advocate for funding and monitor available grant funding programs that may be applicable.”
The Pointer has asked the City how much additional funding is needed to facilitate the completion of the full project, as well as from what source it will seek this funding, but has not received a response. The report mentions the “actual budget amendment value” will be based on “market pricing provided by the construction manager,” who it has not hired yet. To seek further comment, The Pointer attempted to call the City’s Transit Operations Manager, Maintenance, Angelo Mancuso, who did not answer at the time.
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