Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Moving Voters, Transit in Niagara

Transit is definitely an election issue this year. It may not be a top priority for everyone but there is a growing number of people who view it as one of their top concerns. Most of the people who think about transit when they cast a ballot live in our big urban centres, like Toronto, Ottawa or perhaps even Mississauga.

However, here in Niagara transit might have more traction than in other regions. Niagara is not officially part of the Greater Toronto Area, but much of its economic activity is tied to proximity to Toronto and the American border. The ability for people to move through this region is critical for its development and continued success.

On that note the Regional Council within the last few months has finally given the green light to intercity transit. Soon buses will be running between the major urban centres of the region. The long-promised and debated service will greatly help people get between communities which could only get to before by private vehicle or cab at prohibitive cost. Therefore, transit has been something on the minds of Niagara voters for a long time.

The provincial parties have all made commitments to the Niagara Region or transit in general. The Progressive Conservatives have made the fewest direct commitments to transit investment in Ontario. They have promised municipalities will receive “a fair share” of the gas taxes to fund transit project. They have also stated they will end the war on the car, which may be code for a less friendly transit policy.

One big Conservative promise that should be mentioned is that Tim Hudak has promised to push ahead with the Mid-Peninsula Highway. The highway would provide a third freeway through the Niagara Region to relieve congestion on the at-capacity Queen Elizabeth Expressway. The highway is controversial, and I’m personally sceptical of a highways ability to relieve congestion, rather than shifting it away temporarily.

The Ontario Liberals have promised full-day Go trainservices across the province. Niagara only recently got plugged into the Go system with connections in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls. The on-again-off-again train services in the region have been due to concerns about demand and improving track services in the area. It has been a major benefit to commuters as it is considerably cheaper than private bus companies or private travel into the GTA. In addition I’ve heard more than a few anecdotal stories of travellers using the service for day trips to Toronto for hockey or baseball games, cultural events – concerts or plays, or just shopping trips. The Liberals are also promising to continue their commitment to transit investment.

The New Democrats are the party going the furthest in their transit policy. Andrea Horwath and the ONDP have promised to freeze faresacross the province. In return to the fares being pegged at a fixed price the province will assume half the cost of transit in municipalities. I half-expected mad calls of socialism to follow this promise, but apparently the exact same program was in place before 1998 in Ontario. In vote rich Toronto this might be a particularly attractive commitment with the promise of TTC cuts on the horizon. Still, a greater role in transit will be beneficial to municipalities. It will either free up more funds for investment (new buses, repairs, etc.) or cities can shift their funds to other areas requiring attention. Most cities will likely do a little bit of both.

In the riding of Welland the large student population is highly dependent on transit. Citizens of Welland and Port Colborne would benefit from closer freeway access. A better link to the GTA, in no matter what form, would benefit the region.

A special note to sign off on, the Welland candidates met last night in debate in Port Colborne, and will be meeting again tomorrow in Thorold. If you’d like to see the Welland area candidates square off you care at the Four Points at the Sheraton in Thorold, across from Brock University. I’ll be there watching, and I suppose covering the event.

A reminder that I am writing for Speak Your Mind and the Toronto Star, however my latest posts haven’t gone up yet.

Finally, Elections Ontario is making the voting process extra easy with this attractive and easy-to-use website, check it out!

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