Going for a ride on the Bolton Bus

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Caledon, a town of 66,000 located northwest of Toronto, is known for charming villages, fall colours, and horse farms. Its most popular landmarks include the waterfall at Forks of the Credit Provincial Park, the unique Cheltenham Badlands, and the vast Albion Hills Conservation Area. Much of the municipality lies within Niagara Escarpment and Greenbelt protected areas, with lands set aside for farms, estates, parks, and golf. That’s how many Caledonians like it.

Despite its green reputation, Caledon is urbanizing its southeastern quadrant, filling it up with warehouses, truck terminals, and low-density residential subdivisions, all adjacent to the built-up areas of Brampton and Vaughan. Bolton, once a small village, now has a population of 20,000. New subdivisions north of Mayfield Road are indistinguishable from Brampton’s residential development.

Though two GO Transit bus routes ran through Caledon, it had no transit system of its own. This was becoming more of a problem as new warehouses employing thousands of workers opened GO Transit’s buses were scheduled to connect with trains to and from Downtown Toronto, not to serve reverse commuters. Though Brampton Transit operated several routes close to Caledon’s borders, it could not extend north of Mayfield Road without an agreement with the town.

Despite Caledon’s historical resistance to public transit, its attitude slowly changed for the better.

In May 2010, Brampton Transit’s 30 Airport Road bus was extended to the AMB (now Prologis) warehouse complex just north of Mayfield Road. This was done at the request of AMB, though the Town of Caledon had to agree to the request for service.

In 2015, Caledon began to study the need for a local transit system, retaining consultants from Steer Group to evaluate and develop options for new transit services, including routes, operators, and service hours. In April 2019, the report to council recommended starting with a route on Kennedy Road in Mayfield West (contracted by Brampton Transit) and a route connecting employment areas in Bolton with Brampton Transit and YRT at Highways 7 and 50 (contracted to a third party), with a demand-response service within Bolton and an extension of a future Brampton Transit route along Mayfield Road provided within a second phase.

Meanwhile, GO Transit announced the abandonment of Route 38 in June, citing the planned new local transit service as justification for the cut, even though it wasn’t yet setup. Though GO partially restored the service (two daily round trips to Malton GO continue, for now), it remains a short-term solution.

The Mayfield West service — Brampton Transit Route 81 — began in September, connecting with the 502 Züm at Sandalwood Parkway. On Monday, November 11, 2019, the Bolton Route began service, contracted to Voyago. Both routes operate on 30 minute frequencies, weekday peak hours only.

IMG_4900-001.JPGNew Brampton Transit stop on Kennedy Road in Caledon

The two separate agreements don’t work that well for creating a unified transit service.

Though Route 81 and the Bolton Route both have a $4.00 cash fare, the Brampton Transit-contracted service operates on that agency’s fare structure. There’s a discount for Presto card users and a two-hour transfer valid on any other Brampton Transit route. The 80 cent co-fare to and from GO Transit also applies (Route 81 connects with the frequent 502 bus to Downtown Brampton). It’s a good deal for residents in west Caledon.

However, the Voyago-contracted buses serving Bolton are only equipped with a fare box, and only accept $4.00 cash fares. There are no free transfers to or from connecting buses at Highways 7 and 50. (Brampton Transit routes 501 Züm, 1, 23, and 36 connect there, as does YRT route 77. It’s a few minutes’ walk to BT routes 31 and 50.)

Last week, I took the new Bolton bus to get a feel for the new service. The Bolton line operates with two minibuses with twenty seats each and a spot for mobility devices at the rear. Within Bolton, the bus makes a long loop, primarily serving the industrial area in the southwestern quadrant.

I boarded an afternoon bus from Highway 7 at 3:26 PM and rode to Downtown Bolton. I returned on the bus leaving Bolton at 4:30 PM. I was the only passenger each way; I was told by one driver that was typical. By riding the bus, I was able to learn about some of Caledon’s challenges.

Transit options from Caledon council reportCaledon Transit high-priority route options from the April 2019 council report

If the Bolton Line were integrated with York Region Transit and Brampton Transit and made more stops within Brampton. There are several major employers on the Vaughan side of Highway 50, including XPO Logistics, Home Depot, and the Canadian Pacific Intermodal Yard. Additional stops at Major Mackenzie/Coleraine, Rutherford/Castlemore, Trade Valley/Bellechase, and Zenway/Cortrelle would make the bus more accessible and useful to residents and employers. Another stop at Queen Street (Highway 7) and Gore Road would improve connections to Route 50, which serves Humber College.

Those additional stops would likely require a third bus, but the current route struggles to maintain a 60-minute round trip even with the limited stops currently in place. But with fare integration and local service, it could then attract more passengers, defraying the cost of the additional vehicle and operator.

In the long term, it would be good to see more cooperation with Brampton Transit, especially as Brampton continues to develop new subdivisions and industrial lands in the northeast, in the areas bordering Caledon and Vaughan. If GO Transit goes ahead and abandons the remnant of Route 38 an express route between Bolton and Malton GO will still be necessary; ideally, that would would be a partnership between Brampton and Caledon.

Hopefully, Caledon will continue its commitment to building a transit service within its urbanized area. Despite very low ridership at present, the potential is there as population and employment continue to grow. It will take time to tweak the service, improve connections, and build ridership that can count on affordable, reliable transit.

It’s also time for Halton Hills — now the last GTHA municipality without local transit — to step up and follow Caledon’s lead.

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