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What Good are GO trains without regional transit?

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13 May 2015
By David Siegel, St. Catharines Standard. Special to QMI Agency Niagara

It seems the attempt to obtain all-year GO Train service to Niagara is stalled for now, to put an optimistic spin on it.

This is in spite of a very strong effort by Niagara leaders, including the presentation of a business case.

So where do we go from here?

What can we do in the longer run to continue to develop a business case?

The current business case was written from the perspective of how Niagara would benefit from improved GO service. We need to turn our thinking around, though, and focus on how GO would benefit from providing improved service to Niagara.

GO Transit is operated by Metrolinx, an organization that receives a significant amount of provincial funding. It needs to justify good stewardship of public funds by proving it is allocating those funds to move as many passengers as possible.

So how can Niagara assist GO in its mandate of moving as many people as possible?

I am a fairly frequent user of the current bus-train GO connection. The buses I ride tend to have a fair number of passengers, but are not usually close to being full.

My eyeball analysis suggests there are adequate numbers to justify a continuation of the bus service — but put that same number of passengers on a train and GO will be accused of a boondoggle.

So what does Niagara need to do to attract a better GO linkage? Quite simply, we need to generate more passengers for the existing service to convince GO to expand the service.

As good as the region’s business case document was, GO officials will be more convinced by passengers on a platform than words on a page.

Currently, public transit is not well used by people in Niagara, and why should GO officials believe Niagarans will undergo some sort of magical transformation when GO arrives?

To convince GO it should expand its service, we need to convince GO officials we are capable of delivering a large number of riders to GO train platforms. That means enhanced regional transit, and it also means getting more riders on the local transit systems in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls that will feed the GO system.

Better local transit will also help fill the GO system with tourists coming from Toronto. Currently, it is virtually impossible for tourists to get around Niagara without their own car, so it’s a cruel joke to suggest tourists should take GO to Niagara.

WEGO, the public transit system used mainly by tourists within Niagara Falls, is a good start, but it needs to be enhanced. There is no convenient way to get from the GO system to Niagara-on-the-Lake, either the Shaw Festival or the Outlet Shoppes.

In developing the Niagara end of the GO system, we should think about what the Toronto end of the system looks like.

Union Station is a transportation hub that provides easy access to the Toronto transit system, services to both Toronto airports and walking access to hotels, shopping and tourist attractions. It would be difficult for Niagara to duplicate what happens in a densely-populated city like Toronto, but if we want to be serious about GO service we should be thinking about what we have to do to make the Niagara end of the system more attractive.

In sum, if Niagara wants the province to make a commitment toward public transit to Niagara, then Niagara must first demonstrate its commitment to public transit within the region.
Last Modified: May 15, 2015 11:58 AM
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