Oxford County will be backing an advocacy-based approach toward advancing southwestern Ontario's public transportation opportunities.
Greg Gormick, an independent transportation consultant, presented a number of different elements of a "complete public transportation system" to council Wednesday, with the idea of sitting down with all of the different companies to work collaboratively. "We have to work together on this," Gormick said, "because everything's being done in isolation right now. You've got local transit, you've got VIA(Rail),you've got GO Transit, but nobody is talking to each other about this."
Unless these transportation companies co-ordinate their services, public transportation will never be a reasonable alternative to the car, Gormick said.
"That's the whole point here," he said. "That this tool kit and this campaign by Oxford County can lead to getting all of the parties around the table to sit down and discuss what it will take to make southwestern Ontario a leader in public transportation."
The tool kit Gormick referred to is the New Directions: Advancing Southwestern Ontario's Public Transportation Opportunities package that Oxford County showcased in draft form at its Wednesday meeting. According to the report prepared by county CAO Peter Crockett, the package is intended as an advocacy tool for key stakeholders and partners at the local, regional, provincial and federal levels.
An interesting point Gormick referenced was inter-community bus routes, a transit service that could take someone from Tillsonburg to Woodstock. Gormick said the issue is how to convince bus companies to provide that service, which was once provided before it became uneconomic.
"We have to look at the United States," he said. "Where the various levels of government ... have put up a reasonable - it's not a terribly large - amount of money to get the bus operators to stay in town. That's what we need to talk about."
But the way things look now for inter-community bus services, Gormick said the companies see no future in the service.
"First off, it needs to be co-ordinated with local transit and with Amtrak, the rail provider, and it is going to require some form of subsidy," he said. "But what do you get back from that subsidy?Well you make your communities desirable, and you make it possible for people to live in Tillsonburg,Woodstock or Zorra, you name it."
Another point Gormick touched on in his presentation was high speed rail, something he said is a long-term vision.
"It's not going to happen soon," he said. "We don't know whether it's going to happen, but it's an objective...The point is, there is no high-speed rail system in the world that isn't supported by improved high-performance rail service, inter-community bus service, multi-modal terminals and better urban transit.
"Well we don't know if we're going to hit the high-speed dream; we can do all of these things that support that. Even if we don't get to the high-speed pinnacle, look at all of the benefits that we will get from all of the things that we will get from all of the things that we have done on the road."
Coun. Margaret Lupton commented on high-speed rail during Gormick's presentation, saying that rural areas will likely take issue with it.
"When they show you the rail lines, they go directly through farmland and they split farms," she said. "It's not like a regular rail track where you can cross wherever you want... With a high speed, you only have a bridge or an underpass every so often.
"So it's going to leave the rural areas with farms split, a lot of dead end roads and we're going to have to redirect all of our traffic."
Gormick said the high-speed rail is going to be a tough sell.
"People in big cities go, great trains, they're so environmentally friendly," he said. "Well not if they're cutting across your field. These are issues that have to be discussed."
Crockett said the county will now be speaking with the Western Ontario Warden's Caucus, the Southwestern Ontario Urban Mayors Caucus, various provincial ministries and anybody who has a role to play in public transportation insouthwestern Ontario to elicit support for a broad public transportation strategy in southwestern Ontario.