June 10, 2009

A good time to revive shuttle to GO Station

As published in The Erin Advocate

A reliable shuttle bus to the Georgetown GO Station would be a valuable service for people in Erin. It would improve access to employment for those without a vehicle, and provide a commuting alternative that is easier on the environment.

GO Transit is planning major improvements in the next few years, with more frequent service, and trains to Acton, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and Pearson International Airport.

A shuttle was operated for many years by Denny Bus Lines, but it was discontinued about ten years ago when regular ridership dwindled to just two or three people, said Operations Manager Joyce Marshall. There was one run in the morning and one in the evening, serving both Hillsburgh and Erin village, timed to match the GO train schedule.

"We would revive it – we would need at least ten people who would use it every day," she said. If you have a possible interest in such a service, give her a call at 519-833-9117, so she can get an idea of how many are interested, and which train departure is most popular.

Denny's currently runs a Thursday-only service, linking Orangeville, Erin village, Hillsburgh and the Stone Road Mall in Guelph. The company recently lost a few of its traditional school bus routes in a bidding process, so the timing might be right for a new venture.

Mayor Rod Finnie floated the idea of a GO link last September when Town Council was considering how to spend its infrastructure funding. Nothing has come of it, but he likes the idea of partnering with a private company.

"If we take advantage of existing resources, it may be possible," he said.

It is too early to say what the fare might be, but it would be a lot less than the $30-$35 it now costs for a taxi ride from Erin village to the GO Station.

If the Ontario government wanted to boost GO ridership, reduce the pressure on GO parking lots and get more cars off the roads, it could actually subsidize shuttle services for communities close to the train routes.

No one expects a town the size of Erin to set up a municipal transit system, or to provide major subsidies to a private enterprise. But there may be an opportunity for the Town to help in the start-up, coordination and promotion of a shuttle service, which would clearly be in the public interest. The Town could add some prestige to the project, without incurring major costs.

Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott has been lobbying hard for extension of GO train service from Georgetown to Acton, Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo. Guelph-Eramosa is also pushing for a Rockwood station. (There were trains to Acton and Guelph starting in 1990, but they were discontinued in 1993 as a cost-cutting measure.)

In February, the federal and provincial governments announced shared funding of $500 million for GO Transit improvements. In March, $30 million was allocated to widening the rail bridge over the Credit River east of Georgetown, to enable addition of a new second track on that route and provide capacity for a third line in the future.

This will eliminate a major bottleneck in the system. Environmental assessments and design work have been done, and construction should be completed late in 2010, but extended train service will still not be in place until at least a year after that.

In other developments, GO Transit has spent $160 million to buy the CN rail line in north-west Toronto that carries the Georgetown GO trains, VIA passenger trains and CN freight service. The Ontario government also has a long-range plan to build a new, 5-kilometre spur line to Pearson Airport, to enable a link with Union Station.

On a typical weekday, GO runs 183 train trips (180,000 passengers) and more than 2,000 bus trips (35,000 passengers) – taking more than 90,000 cars off the roads.

By 2020, GO ridership outside the Toronto core is expected to triple, according to GO's strategic plan. Their goal is to provide two-way, all-day service in their core service area by 2020, with a train or bus departure every 15 minutes during peak periods, and every 30 minutes in off-peak times (on primary corridors).