The following was a recent exchange in Parliament, as recorded in Hansard:
Mr. Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay-Superior North, Independent): Mr. Speaker, VIA Rail announced service cuts a year ago and tooted about how ridership and revenues would be boosted, but VIA’s plan has gone off the rails. Its annual report shows operating expenses up and ridership down. There are fewer trains and they are emptier and later. Clearly, VIA intends to abandon Canada, except for the Quebec City-Windsor corridor.
Will the minister show leadership with a national strategy to put VIA Rail back on the right track?
Hon. Steven Fletcher (Minister of State — Transport, Conservative): Mr. Speaker, the member has correctly pointed out that people do not take the train as much as they did in the 1950s or 1940s. I am glad that is evident to him. I also hoped he would have supported the $1-billion of investment we put into VIA, but he did not.
Ridership continues to go down because there are alternative methods of transportation, like automobile, bus and airplane. We are making the best possible rail service, but we are not going to have taxpayers wasting money on trains that do not have people in them.
One can draw their own conclusions from the response provided by the Honourable Steven Fletcher. However, when drawing conclusions, the following facts may be of assistance:
1. The VIA train departing Toronto June 4, 2013 at 5:40 p.m. en route to all scheduled stops and a final destination of Sarnia, according to the crew, had approximately 200 passengers. This is approximately 200 passengers greater than Fletcher indicates.
2. When GO transit commenced operation in 1967, it had 2.5 million riders. In 2012, it had 65 million riders. This does indicate that rail transit, presumably scheduled with the customer in mind, is “going up” not down and remains desirable.