Integrated transportation system will aid Southwestern Ontario

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For the price of one kilometre of subway, senior levels of government could develop and enhance an integrated rail and bus transportation system to cure the growing “mobility gap” in Southwestern Ontario.

Terence Johnson, a representative of the Southwestern Ontario Transportation Alliance, said a $400-million, five-year plan for a Network Southwest solution is needed to reverse a 30 year trend in transportation decline.

During the last 30 years, the number of southwestern Ontario communities served by transit has dropped from more than 200 to just over 50. The new Network Southwest proposed by the Alliance will boost that number to more than 100 by 2020.

He said what’s needed is a model which incorporates intercity bus, Via Rail and public transit.

“Not everyone can drive, not everyone who can wants to,” he said. The marked decrease in intercity bus cuts to VIA and the fact that transportation services don’t link is creating a serious mobility gap that has accelerated in recent years.

He said the loss is proportionally greater for residents of smaller communities who are growing increasingly isolated.

He also said a fragmented approach from senior levels of government, a lack of national passenger rail service strategy and an inordinate amount of provincial funding used within large metropolitan areas must be addressed.

Johnson said the United States has learned that national and state funding is needed and the system must be developed so that there is a model of good transit for the “first mile and last mile” of a system.

The Alliance’s action plan calls for improvements of rail at the network’s core, feeder buses to serve off line communities and the development of train stations as “mobility hubs” where users can link to trains and buses.

He said the network would have the same annual operating expense ($60 million) as VIA Rail today.

Mayor Randy Hope said the Western Wardens group of which he is a member supports the idea of a more comprehensive transportation system to go along with its other initiatives of increased access to high speed internet.

“We can’t be technologically isolated or physically isolated, the two go hand in hand,” he said. “We have much to offer the world. We can’t afford to be an afterthought or a backwater.”

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