We live in angry times, and I think it’s safe to say that a lot of that anger is tied to inaction by our representatives at all levels of government, whether the issue is housing, Indigenous rights, social and economic inequality or the growing threat of climate change.
My anger this week is relatively small scale – regional transit.
This week was the annual conference of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), and one of the meetings taken by Guelph’s delegates was with Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney. The topic was regional transit, and my hope is that it was more than an exchange of the usual platitudes about how they’re “working on it.”
I’ve been covering this for 10 years, and the regional transit picture has not gotten better. Granted, in that time GO Train service started here in Guelph with a slowly increasing number of daily trips, but there’s no hard deadline for two-way, all-day service, or even the initiation of some kind of weekend service.
In that same time though, we’ve seen the ongoing loss of various independent transit carriers, we’ve seen various start-ups arrive with a lot of energy and disappear almost as quickly, and then the big hit happened earlier this year when Greyhound pulled out of all its Canadian operations. It was a shock, but it wasn’t surprising because Greyhound had been slowly pulling out for years.
Now we’re left with a GO train still doing even more limited service because of the pandemic, and two GO buses that don’t ferry you to Toronto so much as they take you on a two-hour-plus tour of different areas in the GTA. We don’t have regional transit options in Guelph because the word “option” implies choice, and we have no other choice but to accept the various crappy service options we have now.
Knowing all that made reading Mulroney’s letter to the City last weekend even more infuriating. Instead of outlining immediate next steps for how to fix the massive connectivity issues in our regional transit network, Mulroney made some promises to forward the City’s request to Metrolinx and reminded everyone that the current provincial government deregulated routes to allow for more competition.
I hope Mayor Guthrie and the other City of Guelph reps on the call with Mulroney at AMO really took her to school on this point because deregulation has not opened up new transit routes. Not at all.
There’s no direct transit service from Guelph to Hamilton.
Or Niagara Region.
And now there’s no direct service to either Toronto or Kitchener now with the exception of a few times a day when the GO Train is heading that way. And while you can still get to Kitchener on the GO Bus, it’s now a two-hour trip instead of 30 minutes. Seriously.
So yes, you can get to Kitchener on public transit, but it requires a detour to Aberfoyle and a one-hour wait in the middle of nowhere at a park-n-ride to get there. Meanwhile, Google Maps tells me you can ride your bike from Guelph Central Station to the old Charles Street terminal in downtown Kitchener in an hour-and-a-half!
Apparently, Guelph is such an attractive destination for surrounding communities that the quickest, most direct and environmentally friendly way to get here is not a clean and comfortable GO bus, but a bicycle!
Do you understand my anger? Why is this so hard to fix?
Now, I’m not an expert on transit planning or budgeting, but honestly, how bloody hard is it to put one GO bus on a route that runs between the downtown cores of Kitchener and Guelph, or Cambridge’s Ainslie Street Terminal and Guelph Central Station?
I’m not asking for 15-minute service, I just want an option somewhere between nothing and two hours to get to the town that’s 20 minutes away by car. Hell, I can probably walk to the Kitchener city limits from my house in the west end faster than it would take to get there by transit. That’s pretty messed up.
And to Guelph City Council and staff, I’m here to tell you that Mulroney can’t take all the blame.
In the last year at council, I’ve seen the needs of transit users consistently get thrown under the bus (pun intended), from the closure of downtown streets for the patio program to the thought of future transit only lanes in the city being scoffed at as implausible.
Any assurances that this council is looking out for transit users carries the same weight as being in a locked room with a vampire who promises not to drink your blood.
I don’t care who’s to blame. I don’t care what’s been done (or not done) before. I just want to know that when the day comes, and I need to get to Kitchener, that I will be able to take a bus to get there as opposed to taking a $100 cab ride. Or sitting outside in Aberfoyle for an hour in the middle of winter.
I don’t understand why that’s such a big ask, and I’ll be angry until someone does something about it.