The final part of my three-part series on inter-city public transportation in southern and southwestern Ontario dealt with my age-old frustration of the various players operating in isolation or even competition with one another. Should GO really be duplicating the services that VIA Rail provides when expanding out from the Greater Toronto Area? Or vice-versa? Or is there a possibility that these two agencies could come to some kind of working relationship that improves transportation for all people in southern and southwestern Ontario? It's worth a try...
Better intercity transportation possible with a little better planning, says James Bow
This is the third and final part (for now) of my trilogy of columns on the need to improve intercity transportation in southwestern Ontario.
Last week, I talked about how important it is for the federal government to fund a renewal of VIA Rail's equipment. There is a way the provincial government can help.
And it should help. VIA Rail is our national passenger rail network, but parts of VIA's network serve a local interest more than a national one.
The nation benefits from trains between Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, but if southwestern Ontario wants more trains between Toronto, London, Windsor and Sarnia, the province should step in.
Two weeks ago, I talked about how private bus carriers like Greyhound weren't doing as good a job as they should in meeting our transportation needs. I suggested they should be bought out or subsidized like GO Transit to expand the connections available to local residents.
Similar coordination needs to happen between VIA Rail and GO Transit. GO Transit's investments in the Kitchener line have increased ridership to Toronto, but decreased it on VIA Rail. VIA service to Stratford and St. Mary's is threatened because of this competition and lack of government support.
Greg Gormick, a transportation policy adviser for Oxford County, suggests that instead of competing, GO and VIA should work together in southwestern Ontario. GO should take over the operation of VIA trains between Toronto and Sarnia
He even suggests using GO bi-level equipment, which can be retrofitted with more comfortable seats for long distance travel and café facilities for hungry passengers.
These long-distance runs could be co-ordinated with GO service currently operating between Toronto and Brampton. Fares could be integrated. More trains could be added to Stratford, St. Mary's, London and Sarnia, including the evening return train from Toronto that was cut by Stephen Harper in 2012.
The provincial government could pay for this, and it shouldn't cost much more than the investments underway to bring two-way all-day GO train service between Kitchener and Toronto. In the meantime, VIA Rail could transfer the subsidy it spends on its Sarnia-Toronto trains to its Toronto-Windsor runs through Brantford, improving services for those residents.
And, unlike the high-speed rail service currently under study by the provincial government, the provincial government could implement these services within a year or two rather than 10 years from now.
I realize I've said this often, but it's worth repeating: the provincial government does not need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to improving intercity transit for southwestern Ontario. There are tried-and-true solutions available which can be built in the province's backyard.
All the provincial government has to do is show the will to spend the money now to make improvements now that will have a beneficial impact on southwestern Ontarians now, rather than spend money to study a flashier, more expensive solution which may never materialize.
The provincial government has worked hard to improve public transit to our region. I give them credit for the investments they've made bringing GO train and bus departures to the region, and rail corridor improvements between Union Station and Bramalea.
But the provincial government could do better when it comes to spending its investments more efficiently, and co-ordinating between agencies and industries.
It has built too much with blinders, not realizing that there might be simpler and more effective ways to give people what they want -- the ability to move around our province without relying on cars.