Schreiner Pushes for Regional Transit, While May Pushes for VIA Support

Moving people around the region is still an issue. Greyhound shut down their Canadian operations last May, but it had been effectively closed sine the start of the pandemic now almost two years ago, and there has been no big carrier coming in to take its place. Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner noticed that too, and this morning he made an announcement in Cambridge to declare the Green Party’s commitment to regional transit.

“Affordable and accessible transit is absolutely vital to making our communities more livable, connected and affordable,” Schreiner said at the Ainslie Street Terminal in Cambridge on Tuesday morning. “Doug Ford thinks the solution to transportation is more highways. He’s wrong. More highways will make life even more expensive and increase climate pollution.”

“I hear it from locals every day, transit is a huge issue in this region, and after Greyhound shut down last May, the situation has gotten even worse,” added Cambridge Green Party candidate Carla Johnson “This region is expected to be home to over 1 million people by 2030. Yet there’s no affordable and efficient way to get between Cambridge, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and Brantford.”

Schreiner and Johnson pointed to the Green Party policy on transportation and transit including the restoration of the 50 per cent provincial cost share for municipal transit, reallocating funds assigned for massive highway projects into expanding and electrifying transit, and to work with municipalities to create affordable regional transit options.

If you’re saying to yourself, ‘That sounds like the Link the Watershed plan,’ Schreiner said that it’s one example of a regionally-made initiative to come up with comprehensive solutions. The Link the Watershed plan – which was designed by transit workers in Waterloo Region, Brantford and Guelph – was revealed last fall, and it involves running four different transit routes between the three municipalities with costs shared by Guelph Transit, Brantford Transit and Grand River Transit.

Schreiner said that there was clearly momentum to make regional transit options in the Grand River watershed area a reality, but he didn’t endorse any specific plan.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, former-Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May tabled a private members bill called the VIA Rail Canada Act. The intent of the bill is to essentially make VIA Canada’s answer to the U.S. Amtrak service with a mandate to provide fulsome passenger rail service from one end of Canada to the other.

Although VIA is a crown corporation founded in 1977, it was created through an Order in Council of the Privy Council and not legislation, so it’s unable to seek out outside funding to expand services and is subject to the budgetary whims of whatever government is in power.

“I love traveling by rail. I know that many Canadians in more remote and rural areas rely on the train, despite the poor level of service. But as a VIA fan, I note all recent investments have gone to the Windsor-Quebec corridor,” May said in a statement. “I fear that VIA might sell off and privatize the continental routes – Vancouver to Toronto and Montreal to Halifax. With no bus service nearly everywhere in Canada, we need to protect our national passenger rail service.”

Unifor, which represents over 2,000 maintenance workers, sales agents and customer service staff at VIA endorsed the private members bill saying that it’s a step in the right direction and that it will establish a foundation necessary to start re-building the service.

“Canadians deserve strong public passenger rail service from coast to coast to coast. We urge MPs from all parties to support this important bill. The federal government needs to show leadership and invest in building a passenger rail network and infrastructure for the 21st century,” said Scott Doherty, Unifor’s lead rail negotiator and Executive Assistant to the Unifor National President. “We can’t allow VIA Rail operations to suffer. The bill needs the support of all political parties.”

Amita Kuttner, interim leader of the Green Party, said that the expansion of VIA Rail is also an equity issue.  “VIA goes through many areas where it is the only option for Indigenous people other than hitch-hiking,” Kuttner said. “But even then the service is infrequent – two to three trains a week in many places. We need to invest in modernizing passenger rail transport to make it safe, low-carbon and convenient. “

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