Chet Greason, Gazette staff
Stratford can expect more cuts from VIA Rail, although not in the form of train service.
The full-time position currently employed to run the ticket counter will be eliminated, the crown corporation announced last week, and replaced with an automated ticket kiosk and screens that display train status and schedule information.
VIA spokesperson Mylène Bélanger points out that 82 per cent of VIA stops are unstaffed. That number will rise to 90 per cent once the current cuts take effect on October 25. Communities like Brampton, Aldershot, Chatham, and Woodstock are also slated to slash staff in favour of electronic kiosks.
Bélanger adds these decisions are not made easy, but are based on strict criteria. She cites a markedly noticeable decrease in over-the-counter sales, while tickets purchased online or over the phone are increasing.
“More and more, passengers are expecting self-service methods,” she says, adding these latest cuts will have no impact on scheduling or frequency of trains.
Recent cuts to train service along the Sarnia/London corridor, including stops in Stratford and St. Marys, saw the reduction of two trains, one going in either direction, last year. VIA cited low ridership as the reason.
The reduced service has received considerable attention since its announcement, largely due to St. Marys resident Chris West, the organizer of a petition aimed at increasing train service to the area.
“I expected maybe 100 names,” he says of his petition. “Now we’re in excess of 2,500.”
West says people from coast to coast have signed the petition and left comments about how cuts to train service affect them. The target signature goal has recently been reset to 3,000 by the petition’s overseers at moveon.org.
This is the 10th time the petition’s signature goal has been increased.
“It allows more people to get their name on it,” says West.
In regards to VIA’s newly announced move to automation, West says the news came as a big surprise.
“From a business perspective, your ridership has an expectation of service,” he notes. “When you make it difficult for people to do business with you … it hurts business.”
West says VIA’s decision to automate the Stratford station is an example of making the experience difficult for the customer.
“It’s a poor move. It will hurt VIA and their ridership,” he adds.
“We’ve received very few complaints right now about unstaffed stations,” she says, adding in Montreal or the GO Transit system “hundreds of thousands of people take the train with no stations at all.”