This past Thursday evening, the Local Community Food Centre (LCFC) in Stratford sponsored a transportation-themed evening with the presentation of the much acclaimed documentary film “Derailed – The National Dream” by Canadian Dan Nystedt.
LCFC Community Action Coordinator Elizabeth Anderson introduced a discussion panel made up of St. Marys Save VIA Chair Chris West, Sheila Clarke of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) and the United Way Perth-Huron Transportation Coordinator, Jassamine Tabibi. The panel fielded questions and acknowledged comments from a large, attentive audience.
Complaints have already been directed to VIA over their decision to replace the Stratford ticket agent with a self-serve kiosk. The kiosk is only available for the printing of a boarding pass and the station opens 30 minutes before departure. Tickets have to be ordered in advance by phone or on-line – assuming everyone has access to a computer and a credit card. The elderly and mobility challenged folks have been especially affected by this move, according to Sheila Clarke. So much for “VIA, a more human way to travel.”
Some attendees shared their personal experiences with the group, citing the reduction of passenger service as having had a direct impact on their lives in terms of their need to travel to Toronto for business purposes. They also spoke about the convenience, comfort and available on-board services (wi-fi, for example) offered by VIA compared to the stripped-down and often overcrowded GO Trains. One attendee described the Go Trains as no better than “cattle cars.”
Another brought forward the issue of “ownership” of the railways, saying that the system should be under the complete control of the people. In other words, our governments must take back control of operations. Publicly funded GO Transit is the best local example here in Ontario, but at the moment its mandate seem to be totally occupied with the demands of the GTA, with the rest of Ontario’s citizens paying a share through taxation but left in limbo.
The recent extreme weather conditions have been causing havoc and long delays for motorists on 400-series highways and secondary roads. The long delays and cancelled flights at airports and, in some cases, even closing down airports, has helped to refocus attention on the advantages of passenger rail service in Ontario.
I chatted to one attendee, who currently works locally in rail maintenance. From his perspective, increasing freight demands are putting quite a strain on the entire system. It’s got to the point where maintenance workers are often idled for hours waiting to get out on the tracks to do their jobs. This contributes to the problem VIA has in maintaining its passenger trains on time, especially when freight has priority over passengers.
Anderson showed a brief video that demonstrated the importance of passenger rail services these days in Germany, where almost every small town and rural community is linked to the major cities through an intricate network of rail lines. It is worth taking a look at regional passenger rail transport in Europe. Visit: www.interregiorail.eu/Regional%20Passenger%20Rail%20Transport%20in%20Europe-file=137dextmDi5Xw.pdf&name=Regional+Passenger+Rail+Transport+in+Europe.pdf.
Anderson also urged attendees to pick up a copy of a report released in 2012 titled “ The Road Ahead,” a study of transportation needs across Huron and Perth Counties. This extensive report brings the reality of our ongoing transportation dilemma into clear focus. Hearing the voices of those living with transportation challenges in our region helps one to realize their real and desperate need. Visit: http://perthhuron.unitedway.ca/wpcontent/uploads/2013/08/Transportation-Report.pdf to review the entire report.
On a personal note, Donna and I are planning a trip later this month to celebrate an important family milestone in Markham. We have no intention of exposing ourselves to the chaos and winter driving conditions that can be expected on the 401, the inevitable stress and the now outrageous toll charges on the 407 to get over to Hwy. 48. Our round trip for two to Union Station on VIA, combined with the return Senior Fare from Union Station on the GO bus to Markham works out to less than $150. By car: Gas @1.30 would cost me $30, plus 407 toll charges @ $32. Total $62, plus an additional 400 kms of mileage in wear and tear on my 2003 Honda Civic. The cost of stress? Incalculable!