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Public transit dominates municipal election debates

Every debate I have seen or heard about has so far been dominated by discussion of public transit in the K-W/Guelph area. Tuesday night and again last night, Waterloo Region chair incumbent Ken Seiling and challenger Bob Verdun squared off over the issue in debate. The debate is coming down to one between Seiling and Light Rail Transit, and Verdun and GO service, but it shouldn't be.

It is our responsibility as residents of this region to work towards ways to improve public transit as a whole, not through any one solution, but through all the available solutions. It should be noted that in the US, it has been widely stated that the emissions reductions the country has seen over the last few years have been entirely due to changes in local and state policy, not federal policy. This must be our approach, in the absence of any current federal interest in the matter, as well.

Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Cambridge represent a population of around a half-million people. There are many people who both commute within this region, between these cities, and to areas beyond including Brantford, Hamilton, and the GTA. If anyone in this area wants to travel to anywhere other than Toronto's downtown core, the only options are busses or their cars. I don't believe either of these are ideal, when railroad rights of way exist linking all the cities mentioned to each-other.

The Light Rail Transit idea is a good one, but on its own, it is not useful. The tracks on which they could run stretch from Elmira through St. Jacobs and the Kitchener Via station, to the old Cambridge CP station in Galt, passing through only one downtown - that of Waterloo - on the way, missing Kitchener's downtown by a whole mile.

Without connecting to GO train service, what good is the LRT system? People will be able to travel on a single line, up and down Waterloo region, but will be unable to exit the region. They would be forced to return to their cars, then leave. One could not take the LRT from Cambridge up to Waterloo, run errands, back down to Kitchener, and hop the next GO train to Bramalea. There are three Via trains a day in each direction through Kitchener, and they do not stop everywhere along the way. There are GO trains out of Georgetown that could easily be extended to run from Kitchener - they already run on the busiest section of track. Between Georgetown and Kitchener, there are a mere two non-passenger trains a day in each direction, while the GO trains share their tracks with over twenty freight trains between Georgetown and Bramalea.

The Waterloo region's LRT plans also call for immediate electrification of the line, which is enormously expensive when diesel powered trains can be used until electrification is warranted. This is irresponsible and can only be interpreted as being intended to tie up transit funds to prevent the addition of GO service to the region for ideological rather than practical reasons.

Incumbent Waterloo Region chair Ken Seiling has been in the position for over two decades. He insisted in this week's debates that our region is not a bedroom community for Toronto, and should not be one. What he inexplicably fails to realise is that Waterloo region and Guelph have limited lands, and due to lack of planning by the very people who call for the addition of local employment industry in all affected cities, most of these lands are developed as residential. We are absolutely a bedroom community for the Greater Toronto Area, and it is not all that bad a thing to be, if we allow inexpensive, environmentally friendly commuting options. To deny that we are a bedroom community is to deny that the earth is round.

If the regional leadership truly wants this area to be largely occupied by a locally employed population, it is incumbent on them to bring business in, not to prevent people from getting out. The reality is that employment industries are in the GTA, and the people who work in them live everywhere from beyond Oshawa in the east to beyond Barrie to the north and beyond Waterloo region and Hamilton to the west and the sheer volume of it drives up the cost of housing. People settle further and further from the city into places they can afford, but they still need to get to their places of work.

GO service provides the most inexpensive and ecologically sound answer for commuters to the GTA, while LRTs will complement the Grand River Transit bus system in Waterloo region. Let us all stop pretending Waterloo Region and Guelph are self-contained economies and work to reduce the traffic and pollution created by the reality we face.

Posted at 09:12 on November 10, 2006

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