Thursday, June 5, 2014

Who's Not Been Serving Us Lately? Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2
by Chris P. Bacon

In this installment of Who’s Not Been Serving Us Lately?, I look at Niagara Region’s demands for GO Transit rail service.

We’ve heard the clamoring in the media.  Finally, we have a special report about GO Transit in the region of Niagara.  I was tired of referencing the old reports, you know, those from May 2010 and Apr. 2011 (and it’s appendices).  This report comes with a video of interviews with key people in Niagara.  I’m puzzled why the videographer added so much footage whilst standing on the railway tracks given that Rail Safety Week was a month ago.

This report goes a little farther to quantify what the region is seeking.  Yes, the call is for rail service, and the report states four trains are requested, two in the morning, two in the evening.  Is that two inbound to Union in the morning and two in the reverse direction at the end of the day, or is it one in either direction at both ends of the day?

The report misses a key component of the GO Transit solution for the region.  Why weren’t passengers asked for their views?  Fortunately, we have a surrogate for that, namely, the Get Niagara GOing petition, which is attempting to solicit 10,000 signatures.  Since the website’s inception two months ago, the site has garnered less than 4,000 signatories (as at May 26).  If we use the regional municipality’s published population of 430,000, then that’s less than 1% support.  If this matter is such a burning issue – as those individuals quoted in the report make it out to be – should the petition not be over the top by now?

The aforementioned May 2010 report has projected AM/PM weekday ridership demand.  I’m leery of the numbers for Grimsby, since the park and ride lot is virtually empty.  Similarly, do the numbers for Hamilton represent a blend of Route 16, Aldershot, and Stoney Creek (Route 12)?  What are the projections for the rest of the day?  This special report doesn’t clarify the numbers; perhaps future installments will.

It’s not that Niagara is without GO Transit service. Route 12 buses have been in operation since September 2009.  Why is it that the twelve mayors in the region and the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce have banded together to state that rail service is the solution more than four years later?  What’s their backup plan until that happens?  Why haven’t they been pressuring Metrolinx to operate hourly bus service during the week?  Hourly service exists on weekends.  Even if trains were implemented to run in the morning and evening hours, buses would still be required for the rest of the day.

I visited the Niagara Region website looking for details of their transit requirements.  The most recent page, dated April 15, solicits input on public transit.  They started the public input process last month.  Is that how we’re supposed to interpret this?  

There is also this page, Niagara United for GO Transit from January 28 this year, which calls “for the provincial government to expand daily commuter GO train service to the Niagara Peninsula”.  How is this different than their motion in June 2011 that was passed unanimously?  The following statement raised my eyebrows:

A further study conducted by the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation and GO Transit found that proactive scheduling and strong communications can limit any conflicts between trains and ships at the Welland Canal to "almost zero," negating the need to build an expensive bridge or tunnel crossing.

Let’s face it, clear and consistent communications has never been a forte of GO Transit, even though it’s promised in their Passenger Charter.  Inconsistent e-mail alerts from the GO Transit Control Centre are a barometer of this weakness.  Informed scheduling on Route 12 through Niagara Region last year produced disastrous passenger experiences.

Also on this page is a link to the Regional Chair, one of the people interviewed for the special report.  What figures prominently on his agenda?  The following:

Niagara Region and Chamber of Commerce, can you clarify your requirements, please?  Why is Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati vocal on this, and St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullan mum on the matter?  It’s time to regroup and focus on what is achievable realistically with the provincial government and Metrolinx – short-term and long term.  I truly hope you’ll be included on the map for Metrolinx’s Big Move.

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