Tori Sutton, Stratford Gazette
VIA Rail met with area mayors in London Thursday to discuss ways to build future ridership.
The meeting comes after the June announcement VIA would be cutting two trains servicing Stratford come October – Train 86, which departs the city for Toronto shortly before 6 a.m. and Train 89, which heads from Toronto to Stratford, arriving at around 12:30 a.m.
The local reductions in service were just two of a string of VIA cancellations and cutbacks across Canada which the company said were necessary to better meet customer demand.
“I believe they were positive discussions and I can say that some of my counterparts were far more vocal and aggressive than maybe I was,” Mayor Dan Mathieson told the Gazette.
“But that just shows the level of passion and frustration that communities have regarding VIA and public transportation.”
Representatives from London, Windsor, Chatham-Kent, Sarnia, Strathroy, Lambton County, Middlesex, Kitchener and Waterloo Region were present at the meeting.
VIA Rail president Marc Laliberté and other VIA executives were also in attendance.
Mathieson was quick to point out the discussions had nothing to do with convincing VIA to reverse its previously-announced decisions, but instead to open dialogue about long-term options.
“We were not asking them to reverse the cuts, but more so to work with communities to consult to see if there are ways, over time, of building ridership back up,” he said.
“What we’re going to do is start to work together to identify gaps.”
Locally, one such gap involves the incoming university students and the fact they have no solid access to commuter rail.
There could be several solutions, such as offering bus service from Stratford to GO Transit in Kitchener, or improving train service to and from Stratford during different times of the day, the mayor said.
“It’s starting to build their knowledge of what’s going on and what’s developing in our communities,” he added.
A working group will be struck and discussions will be ongoing, which indicates VIA realizes this isn’t a one-time event and concerned municipalities are not willing to be silenced, said Mathieson.
VIA executives and Mathieson also met with the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Thursday to examine challenges faced when it comes to transporting theatre patrons based on the existing train schedule.
“It was very productive and I found them to be extremely interested,” Mathieson said, adding VIA is prepared to work with the city and Festival to address ridership demands.