Transport Action Ontario board member Ken Westcar has published an opinion piece on the confusing and seemingly uncoordinated federal and provincial statement on passenger rail in southwestern Ontario (SWO). There has been no apparent federal action on promises made in 2021 to improve SWO passenger rail, or responses to new Toronto – Chicago service proposed by the USA. Meanwhile the province has promised to invest $160M to improve service between London – Kitchener and Toronto.
The Ford government introduced its 2022 Budget on April 28. As the Ontario legislature was dissolved one week later due to the upcoming provincial election, the budget was not debated or passed. However, it does represent the election platform of the Ford government, and presumably will be re-introduced if the Progressive Conservatives win the election.
In the transportation area, the Budget has few surprises and largely represents a restatement of previous commitments. Key items include:
Highways, highways, highways. Although more funds are to be expended to public transit, it is clear that this government’s top priority is highways. A total of $25.1B over 10 years is slated for “planning and/or construction of highway expansion and rehabilitation projects” across the province, including the construction of new Highway 413, new Bradford Bypass and widening of numerous other highways across Ontario. No cost breakdown is given for these projects. (Independent experts have estimated a construction cost of $8 – 10B for Highway 413).
Other driver benefits. These include removal of tolls on Highways 412 and 418, removal of license fees, 5.7c/l reduction in gas tax from July – December, 2022, and changes in auto insurance rules to give consumers more choice and reduce fraud.
$61B to public transit over 10 years. The cited projects are well known and have been costed out. The key committed projects are GO Expansion (see posting on this website January 13, 2022 for details) and the 4 GTA subway projects (Ontario Line, Yonge North, Scarborough and Eglinton West). All these projects are moving forward.
GO Milton improvements not funded. Despite a federal commitment of up to $500M (50%), the Budget was silent on provincial matching funding to convert this busy line to all-day two-way service.
Transit Oriented Communities (TOC). Agreements have been signed to build TOCs at 7 stations on the Ontario Line and the Yonge North Subway Extension to provide new funding sources for the province for construction.
New GTA Projects. Continued planning on Sheppard East subway extension and on Eglinton Crosstown West extension to Pearson Airport.
Discussion of three extension projects for GO Transit:
London, where the province is “proceeding with planning work and investment for track improvements to support implementation of faster and more frequent service” (no details).
Niagara, where the province “continues to work with rail partners” (no details).
Northeastern Passenger Rail. $75M to support corridor, fleet and station upgrades for service between Toronto and Timmins, with a rail connection to Cochrane. Although this is a good start, we note that this is insufficient to cover the full capital cost of $150M – $230M, as cited in the Updated Initial Business Case.
Shortline railways absent. There was no discussion in the Budget on preserving shortline railways, such as the Barrie-Collingwood or Orangeville-Brampton lines.
Coach Refurbishing. $280M for funding to refurbish 150 GO Transit bi-level coaches in Thunder Bay and North Bay.
References to the GGH Transportation Plan with 100+ actions and to the Northern Task Force that will “inform the government of the most important local needs”.
As readers know, Transport Action Ontario is deeply involved in most of these projects and will continue to closely monitor, support or oppose them, regardless of who wins the upcoming election.
Transport Action Ontario’s (TAO) annual general meeting, held April 23, 2022, included a portion open to the public. This featured a guest presentation by Elizabeth May M.P., former leader of the Green Party of Canada. This was followed by a brief report by Peter Miasek, President, summarizing the organization’s advocacy efforts over the past year.
Ms. May discussed the importance of ground transportation (intercity rail and bus) to Canada, her Private Members Bill C-236 (“VIA Rail Canada Act”), VIA’s High Frequency Rail proposal and her efforts t for, a multi-party rail caucus in Parliament.
Mr. Miasek’s presentation summarized advocacy activities in the following areas:
Northern and Eastern Ontario Rail
Southwestern Ontario Passenger Rail and Intercommunity Bus
FlixBus, owned by German company FlixMobility, enters the recently deregulated and increasingly crowded Ontario intercity bus market on April 7th 2022, with routes from Toronto to Guelph, Kitchener, Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, and Ottawa.
FlixMobility positions itself as a “mobility provider” rather than a bus company, with local partners contracted to operate to operate FlixBus-branded motorcoaches. Its low-cost business model, with online-first ticket sales is particularly appealing to students and budget travellers. Fares in Ontario start at $11.99. However, seat selection and additional luggage incurs an extra fee.
From is first three routes launched in 2013 around Munich, FlixMobility has grown rapidly, with global operations now spanning 38 countries under the FlixBus and FlixTrain brands. FlixBus has been hoping to enter the Canadian market for some time, after entering the North American market and launching FlixBus USA in 2018.
In 2020, Pierre Gourdain, managing director of FlixBus North America, was the guest speaker at Transport Action’s online Annual General Meeting, speaking about FlixBus’s plans:
Canadian FlixBus services will be competing with GO, Megabus and Rider Express services between Niagara Falls and Toronto; with GO and OnexBus between Kitchener and Toronto; and with Megabus and Rider Express on the Toronto to Ottawa route. Each service offering uses slightly different routes. All new entrants have faced challenges starting up services while passenger numbers have been lower due to the pandemic. Rider Express also launched a service between Toronto, Kitchener, London and Windsor but has currently suspended it until the situation is more favourable.
FlixMobility stepped in to buy Greyhound USA from First Group in October 2021. For the time being, FlixBus USA and Greyhound operations remain separate, although the Boltbus sub-brand of Greyhound which competed directly with the Flixbus business model, has been discontinued.
Greyhound Canada was completely shut down months before the American business was sold to FlixMobility, but Greyhound USA services across the border to Toronto resumed in the fall of 2021 after a hiatus due to pandemic border crossing restrictions. Future FlixBus routes in Canada are also expected to include cross-border services.
As readers know, in January, 2022 Ontario launched a Northern Transportation Task Force, one of 60 actions set out in “Connecting the North A Draft Transportation Plan for Northern Ontario”. On March 13, we received the following communication from Danny Whalen, Co-chair:
We had our first meeting of the full task force and our third meeting of the Co-Chairs.
We went around the table and gathered both concerns and wants for transportation in the north. We listed both and it was no surprise that many concerns and wants were shared by numerous members. We have taken the list and organized our upcoming meetings I order of priority. Highway maintenance and classification was the highest scoring. The benefits of increasing rail usage for both freight and passenger is another highly shared topic.
We also want to gather as much outside input as possible and have created an email box for collection. If you and your group want to share directly with the task force then please do and submit to