On January 17, 2020, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation released the report Connecting the Southwest: A draft transportation plan for southwestern Ontario. Transport Action Ontario is pleased that the plan has been released, as promised in the 2019 Provincial Budget.
The Province has also launched an online survey to gather feedback on the document.
Most of the plan’s 43 Actions deal with expansion or operations of highways and roads. As an organization focusing on rail, bus and transit public transportation, we will not comment further on those Actions.
We are encouraged to see the province taking the public transportation concerns of communities large and small across the region seriously, to reverse the decline of rural and regional mobility. Some of the Actions are province-wide programs or plans already underway. We support these programs such as the Community Transportation Grant Program, the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, Dedicated Gas Tax Funding for Public Transportation and Transit-Oriented Development of stations.
We are pleased that the province will be actively engaging with mayors in a Task Force to build upon the foundations that have been created by the Community Transportation Grants, and focusing on a regional bus network with a rail spine, as recommended in our policy research and reports.
The province is working to identify opportunities for incremental improvements to the existing rail corridors, which could swiftly deliver the more frequent and reliable passenger services that the region needs. It is imperative that these passenger rail improvements are for the benefit of the whole region, including additional services to Sarnia and Windsor.
We hope to see the federal government represented on the new Task Force and working alongside the province as an active partner in bringing about significant improvements that will make the best use of the increased capabilities of the new VIA Rail train fleet that will be arriving in 2021.
We’re encouraged by a focus on passenger convenience, and connectivity between rail and bus services. This is something people in this region have brought up frequently at our public meetings. It is also fundamental to maximizing the benefits to quality of life and minimizing the burden on the public purse.
Bus drivers and train crews are the backbone of a passenger friendly transportation network. They need fair wages and good working conditions to help them deliver outstanding levels of customer service, and that’s an issue we will be watching.
We look forward to seeing concrete steps to fulfill these Actions, including line items in upcoming Provincial Budgets. Inevitably, investment decisions will have to be made between highway, road and public transportation projects. It’s imperative that all investment decisions be evidence-based and incorporate broad-spectrum stakeholder consultation. All plans need to include a contribution to citizens’ wellness and full consideration of their health effects. Economic growth facilitation should not be based on monetary considerations alone but its positive effects on society in general.
Photo: Ontario Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney announcing Connecting the Southwest accompanied by Environment Minister Jeff Yurek, MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London; London Mayor Ed Holder; Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman, MPP for Oxford; Consumer Affairs Minister Lisa Thompson, MPP for Huron-Bruce; and Bob Bailey, MPP for Sarnia-Lambton