New Canadians Centre
Arthur News School of Fish
Go Bus 88. Image via the Peterborough Examiner

Ontario Provincial Election and Regional Transit

Written by
Peterborough Regional Transit Coalition
and
and
June 1, 2022

Any party endorsements are the opinion of the Peterborough Regional Transit Coalition

Ontario Provincial Election and Regional Transit
Go Bus 88. Image via the Peterborough Examiner

With less than two weeks remaining in the Ontario provincial election, candidates in Peterborough-Kawartha have debated issues of transit, transportation infrastructure, and the environment. These debates have highlighted the concerns of commuters between Peterborough and the GTA who need regional mobility for essential reasons of family, employment, medical care, and community connectivity.

Currently, GO transit is the only remaining option for commuters following Greyhound’s demise, and a merging of GO bus routes during the pandemic means the trip from Peterborough to Toronto now runs upwards of three hours. Therefore, leadership to improve the frequency and efficiency of regional transit is essential to our region’s future.

We are a coalition of individuals concerned about regional transit in the Greater Peterborough Region. In order to prepare ourselves and help to prepare readers for the ballot box, we surveyed Peterborough-Kawartha candidates for the upcoming Provincial Election.

We probed these campaigns’ commitment to regional transit across three priority areas: climate, affordability, and accessibility. We also asked broader questions about the candidate’s history of transit support and about the party’s timeline for implementing transit goals if they were to form government. Three of the five candidates we approached responded; Dave Smith and Tom Marazzo did not participate. Rebecca Quinnell, of the New Blue Party, was not surveyed, as she had not yet announced her candidacy at the start of our study. We compared survey responses with each party’s provincial campaign platform, or we analysed the platform alone if the candidate did not respond to our survey. 

All candidates rated climate conscious mobility, affordable mobility, and accessible mobility as being a high priority. The differences are in the details. Gibson emphasised the Green party’s proposal to lower transit fares in half for the first 3 months to address rising gas prices, as well as his own first-hand knowledge of Peterborough’s transit deficits as a former student at Trent and Durham College. Deck emphasised the NDP’s plan to boost municipal funding and develop some sort of public/private Intercommunity Transportation Strategy. Her responses addressed the needs of Ontarians in general, without mention of a timeline for action or what this might look like for Peterborough specifically. Dempsey expressed strong support for a more frequent and express 88 bus, the return of the VIA rail, and subsidies for a Greyhound-like service in the Peterborough and Kawarthas area.

We found further contrasts in parties’ platforms. For one, our non-respondents do not appear to prioritise the issue. The Ontario Party does not address transit in its platform, while the PC’s vision for regional transit centres personal vehicles and highway expansions, which stand to worsen monetary, climate, and accessibility concerns. What’s more, Dave Smith’s proposed solution to regional transit deficits is to create a new express bus to the yet-to-be-built Yonge Street subway instead of express service to Oshawa. As the Yonge Street subway won’t be complete until 2029, this solution does not meet present needs.

The Greens, NDP, and Liberals broadly align on several policy priorities. All three platforms include increased subsidies to municipal and regional transit services, service improvements, regional fare integration, and a gesture towards restoring or replacing the Greyhound network. The Greens stand out for their promise to specifically increase GO service to 15 minute intervals during peak periods. The Liberals lead in ambition and detail. The ‘buck a ride’ promise of $1 fares in 2024 could save commuters a lot of money and reduce highway congestion and air pollution. 

Our overall impression is that Dempsey and the Liberal party are committed to addressing Peterborough’s regional transit deficits. There are many factors to weigh at the ballot box, and when it comes to transit, there is a clear winner.

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