TAAG Teams Up With Unions for Regional Transit Strategy

The Transit Action Alliance of Guelph (TAAG) has teamed up with transit unions in Guelph, Brantford and Waterloo Region to promote a regional transit strategy that will better connect the three areas, and other smaller transit networks in rural areas. In a presentation on Tuesday night, the group unveiled a plan that they hope will appeal to regional governments to address the gaps in travelling between area municipalities.

“We’re pleased to present this concept plan of Linking the watershed. This is a conversation starter, we hope, between this regions of Guelph, Waterloo, Brantford, Wellington County, County of Brant and others,” said Steve Petric, the chair of TAAG.

Warren Schnurr, chair of the union and politics committee of Unifor Local 4304, which represents the workers of Grand River Transit, presented the plan saying that there are huge gaps in regional transit service, and even though GO Transit is running service to all these areas, there’s currently no trans-regional service that ferries passengers between the communities themselves.

“The loss of Greyhound service has exasperated the already lacking inter-community transit options,” Schnurr explained. “When Greyhound was in service, we had some connectability between Guelph and the region that was relatively frequent, but it was still a private carrier, and it may not have been the most convenient for people who needed local transit.”

The project proposes four new routes. Brantford Transit route will run between the Brantford Bus Terminal to the Ainslie Street Terminal in Cambridge, while Grand River Transit will run two different routes from Waterloo Region to Guelph; one between Cambridge Centre Station and Guelph Central Station, and one from Fairway Station in Kitchener to Stone Road Mall and the University of Guelph with a stop at the Waterloo Region Airport in-between.

In the plan, Guelph Transit will run a route from the Woodlawn Smart Centre (the Walmart plaza) and down Highway #7 to Kitchener Central Station before doing a loop through downtown Kitchener and returning to Guelph. The route plan also allows for a potential expansion of the route when the Breslau GO station opens.

Three of the four trips will be 45-minutes long one way, with the GRT route from Fairway to Stone Road taking an hour one way.

“The ‘Link the Watershed’ initiative is a relatively straightforward option to provide co-ordinated and efficient transit connections for users, between all the service providers in the Grand River watershed,” Schnurr said. “We’re talking about using existing service providers, expanding on existing services, and not requiring a huge investment in infrastructure.”

The estimated cost for the proposed service is almost $7.55 million, with $1.75 million being Guelph Transit’s share in terms of personnel, vehicle costs, upgraded bus stops, and other capital investments, but the group is hoping that they might be able to secure Federal or Provincial funding to help offset the costs. As indicated in a March 1 press release from the Government of Ontario, they were offering $650 million in additional Safe Restart funding to support transit systems across Ontario.

“This would be a perfect opportunity to get in and implement these services, assuming the Provincial and Federal government make this funding available,” Schnurr added.

As important as connecting the three urban communities is creating connections to small transit services running passengers from urban centres to more rural areas. These are services like Wellington Country’s Ride Well, PC Connect that runs service from Perth County to Waterloo Region, and Guelph-Owen Sound Transportation (GOST) not to mention various GO Transit and VIA Rail connections.

So why not just petition GO Transit and Metrolinx to expanded service to area communities? Speed is a factor, Schnurr said that the new routes and changes could be implemented by the Fall of 2022 with the support of all governments, while a potential Guelph to Cambridge GO bus is only noted as part of their 10-year plan. Logistically, Schnurr explained, connecting communities in southwestern Ontario is not a priority.

“In general, the purpose of GO Transit service has been to provide longer distance links that facilitate travel to, from and through the Greater Toronto Area with any resulting local connectivity being a side benefit,” he said. “If you look at GO Transit’s entire network, their system is entirely geared towards the GTA.”

An arrangement like ‘Link the Watershed’ would also be similar to ones in the GTA with transit routes in several communities frequently crossing municipal borders. “Durham Region is a great example where they’ve done it, so it’s being done now, successfully, and I think it can be done here, we just need everyone to work together,” Petric said

Initial discussions have taken place with the various transit systems, but a big piece of this is going to be advocacy from transit users, local businesses and other groups. “Public awareness at every level would be beneficial, and having people tell their municipal leaders that they want this, and to please make this happen, would help,” Schnurr said.

“We’re hoping that after today the officials from each transit service, urban and rural, as well as municipalities can work together to refine the proposal, determine the final costs, and jointly apply for the Provincial and Federal funding,” Schnurr added. “Hopefully, they will eagerly provide the requested funding for the immediate benefit of our existing and potential transit users, as well as the long term benefit for all our communities.”

More than a benefit, it’s about addressing a need in Guelph and the other communities, and it’s about keeping a promise that’s been made frequently by successive city councils. While progress has been made to achieve two-way, all-day GO Train service, transit connectivity in our own region has suffered, and it’s now time to change that.

“This is what we need to help fill these gaps because we’ve been talking about regional transit for 25-plus years, and it’s now even worse than it was before. This is the time to do it, and not just talk about it,” Petric said.

Notes from the Presentation:

*Estimated costs of the service.

*Estimated travel and running times for the routes.

*List of proposed changes to rural transit services.

*Proposed stop locations and connections.

Check out the proposed route map below:

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