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A transit screed (the 2022 provincial election edition)

This week's Market Squared looks at more vague transit promises from our provincial election candidates who will likely never use transit (like much of the rest of Guelph)
20180815 guelph transit ts
GuelphToday file photo

I’m writing this piece coming out of Thursday’s provincial candidates’ town hall hosted by the Guelph Coalition for Social Justice, and boy was there a lot of love for expanding public transit.

Of course, elections are the only time that public transit gets any love at all. The rest of time, building a better bus service that’s affordable and effective is an afterthought, and if the government does actually find themselves in the unusual position of throwing us a bone with slightly improved service, they’re taken aback when we’re not grateful for the transit equivalent of table scraps.

Isn’t it ludicrous that we’re in another provincial election where we’re still begging for two-way, all-day GO Train service? Isn’t it ridiculous that we’re in the first provincial election after Greyhound ended service in Canada, and all the major parties have in terms of real regional transit options are vague platitudes and this nebulous phrase, “Do more”?

And don’t “at” me about the Liberal plan to pass $1 transit fares because that assumes a) That the Liberals will win, b) That they will follow though, and c) That a three-hour bus ride from Guelph to Toronto with a transfer in either Brampton or Mississauga is effectively better if it only costs you a dollar to take it.

The truth is that this should be prime time for transit services because there’s so much going on to encourage people to get on a bus or a train right now. Consider that high gas prices have people looking for other options, more people are getting back to work and play in-person, and schedules cut back at the height of COVID are now being restored.

Frankly, you’d have to be crazy not to be considering the bus for the gas prices alone. I remember the summer of 2009 when the price of gas was exorbitant and getting a seat on the Greyhound weekday mornings reached near Hunger Games level of hysteria. Understandable because the only amenities the old bus terminal had to offer where a broken pinball machine and five-month-old copies of Echo.

That was just 10 years ago, but these are definitely different times because not only is the Greyhound gone, but so is, I fear, any desire by most people in Guelph to seek out transit as a viable alternative.

Why? Because it’s not viable.

In terms of regional transit, the aforementioned Greyhound has been gone for a whole year now, and while smaller carriers have dipped their toe into the field as a replacement, all they can do is catch a cup full of water from the flow of the broken dam.

Last month while talking to the Breezy Breakfast Club, Mayor Cam Guthrie was asked about the last time he took Guelph Transit and he said it had been three years since he got on the bus. Interesting, but I am curious about why transit is supposed to be a daily option for the rest of us when the mayor hasn’t used it once in three years.

And not to beat up too hard on our mayor, but it was around this same time he posted to social media that an e-bike is a good investment since Guelph is only about eight kilometres long end-to-end. Fair enough, but if Guelph is this compact little place, then why does it take an hour to 90 minutes to get from the north end to the south end on transit?

Next weekend is the Victoria Day holiday, and for the first time Guelph Transit will be on-demand only. The whole service. It’s a great move for a system that’s already tough to navigate when it’s firing all cylinders, but nothing says, “We have faith in our transit system,” like turning it into another Uber on holidays.

I understand about cost savings, but there’s an additional cost to the full faith and credit people have in Guelph Transit by going all on-demand, especially for the people that don’t have smart phones. Didn’t we do this dance when Transit pulled down every paper schedule from every stop a few years ago?

So how about our provincial election candidates, are they taking the bus or the train? Will they be using transit as they push for more access, more money, and more frequency? Are they among the people who will take advantage of a more robust transit universe in our region, or will they simply hop in their cars satisfied that we, the little people, might spare them our complaints for a little while?

The same goes to anyone and everyone reading this screed. We need people to take the bus to prove it the viable and necessary alternative to traffic and sprawl, and if the dependably green citizens of Guelph aren’t willing to give up their car occasionally, then why do we have such great expectations for the rest of Ontario?

Otherwise, any transit money would probably be better spent buying an e-bike for every transit user. It seems that we’ve already decided that it’s the real better way.