GO Transit is moving into new territory, but will commuters be better off overall? As soon as Sept. 5, weekday GO buses begin stopping in Peterborough, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls and, later in the fall, Kitchener and Cambridge.
Politicians and residents from cities beyond the GTA have been asking for GO trains, too, and studies are underway. Until now, Barrie was one of the few locations lying outside GO’s official turf, Greater Toronto and Hamilton.
Commuters in southern Ontario deserve more choices, but the province has no apparent strategy to avoid losing the options we have now. Bus firms like Greyhound and Coach Canada already have significant commuter service through the “Greater Golden Horseshoe” and now face competition from tax-subsidized GO Transit.
This summer, Ontario Transport Minister Jim Bradley brought weekend GO rail service to Niagara Falls, which passes through his riding of St. Catharines.
The downside is the corridor is already served by VIA Rail and private bus companies. New GO service will increase travel options but could also poach customers from the others. If they in turn cut back on frequency, are we better off, especially since GO’s losses are covered by taxes?
The provincial planning agency Metrolinx recently completed a master transport plan, but only for the GTA and Hamilton. With politicians outside this area pushing for GO service — and Queen’s Park agreeing to look into it — the government is flying without a map. The Metrolinx plan tries to justify the cost of new service based on ridership, not just politics.
Premier Dalton McGuinty has not shown the public a similar plan for the province, and the ministry of transportation has no obvious strategy.
Queen’s Park owns two major train and bus networks — GO and Ontario Northland. Ontario benefits from extensive VIA Rail and private bus service. We also need high-speed rail.
But with no clear game plan to co-ordinate and build a shared public-private network, sending GO into new territory is reckless as well as fiscally irresponsible.