Ontario has opened its online consultation for the province’s 2016 budget priorities. SWOTA has posted a submission asking for integrated public transportation outside the GTAA, as envisioned in our Network Southwest plan. The submission can be voted on, and comments provided here
A copy of the submission can also be viewed below:
Created on December 9, 2015 by Terence Johnson
While Metrolinx has made great strides in improving and integrating public transport in the GTHA, services in Southwestern, Eastern, and Northern Ontario have declined, and communities have suffered as a result.
Since 2009, more than 100 Ontario communities have lost their last public transport connection to the outside world. Strategically, this creates a risk of long-term economic decline across entire regions that will become harder to reverse as time goes on. On a human scale, when someone needs to travel to a medical appointment, to work, or simply to visit friends or relatives, this is already a crisis.
The social and economic costs of isolation are large compared to what it would cost to revitalize Ontario’s public transport network.
Restoring Ontario’s public transportation network outside the GTHA would require only a small fraction of the $15bn the Ontario government has already pledged to invest in infrastructure. The key ingredient is not money, but collaboration. By working with the federal government, municipalities, and the bus industry, the province can get the best value for every dollar.
Connecting services and coordinating schedules so door-to-door car-free journeys become practical and easy is cheap, simple, and already happening right across the border in Michigan. There, Amtrak, local transit, and long-distance bus operators work together. It already happens in Ontario, within the GTHA.
Rail service cuts by the federal government in 2012 hit many communities hard, including Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Stratford, Cornwall, and Belleville. There are also many communities, including St. Thomas, Leamington, and Goderich, where bus services have been withdrawn by Greyhound, in some cases many years ago. However, Ontario’s current bus regulations prevent local operators or our municipalities from offering a new service.
The province has already made a step in the right direction by announcing a review of bus regulations in fall 2015 that may allow Ontario companies to start providing services to local communities. Seed funding to restore a core network of services integrated with each other, transit, and rail, is vital to ensuring that Ontario gets the network it needs to meet its commitment to tackle pollution and to give youth and seniors in all our communities the mobility they need and deserve.
Improving Ontario’s public transportation system will materially assist Ontario municipalities with their sustainability plans, including reduced carbon footprints, a stable or increasing population (as opposed to population shift and decline), easier recruitment and retention of skilled professionals, tourism promotion, increased workplace productivity, and more high-paying and permanent jobs.
A 2015 study by the Southwestern Ontario Transportation Alliance estimated the capital cost of implementing a fully integrated network for Southwestern Ontario at $400 million over five years, to be shared with the federal government. This would include helping municipalities upgrade existing bus terminals and rail stations in ways that attract new economic development, eliminating the worst train delays and road safety hazards by lighting rural grade crossings and replacing 60-year-old trains with new made-in-Ontario equipment. (http://www.swota.ca/network-southwest)
If our government acts now, these incremental improvements can deliver significant results before the next election for the one-third of Ontarians who do not own a car or prefer not to drive.