all aboard

A referendum for the future

The votes are counted, the winners declared, and the dust has settled.

What to make of the election that was to be the “LRT referendum we’ve been waiting for?” If it truly was such a referendum, that score has been settled: despite an enormous budget to support of a candidate who made his name known fighting the region in the courts on LRT, despite a former MP and a former weatherman both with massive name recognition also championing the cause, no LRT opponent was able to muster the support they thought their issue deserved.

That’s not to say that the 76% of voters who didn’t vote for Jay Aissa are all pro-LRT, or that the almost 70% of residents who didn’t even come out to vote (come on, people!) are all ardent LRT supporters. Certainly not. But what the results clearly indicate is that overall, the people of Waterloo Region are satisfied with the direction we are moving in.

And why not? Over the last decade we have seen the resurgence of our community’s once-dilapidated cores, a resilient economy which (while not universally strong) has not only survived but thrived in the face of the decline of a headliner employer, and the emergence of this region as the most progressive small city in Ontario for tackling the challenges of growth, sprawl, and sustainability.

On the basis of our success so far, a majority of people are willing to accept that we must continue to plan for the future, and that we need continue to innovate. Many still reserve judgement on the most visible aspect of this plan (LRT), but they’re not interested in opposing it. Turning back now flies in the face of our community tradition of barn-raising and reinvention. Our no-nonsense progressiveness brooks no nonsense. This is the real reason the cancel-LRT crusade failed.

For those of us who have supported and advocated for LRT over the years, today is a very good day: it marks the end of activity to halt ION which will roll out in 2017. But it is not the end to the challenges our region will face as it grows up. Certainly, last night’s results do not guarantee the success of ION light rail transit.

Only you can do that.

Over the next three years, a very complex project will need to come in on time, and on budget… and it will then need to meet or exceed expectations. The early signs are good, but we have no certainty that it will continue. We have newly elected leaders who have committed to careful stewardship of what the previous council initiated, but that’s not enough. We all need to stay engaged and hold our regional government’s feet to the fire. We need to be the voice of conscience and of reason. We have to keep the pressure on council to make good decisions not just about LRT, but on transit as a whole, and the other complex issues that tie into it: growth management, affordable housing, and debt.

In June 2011, on the eve of the council vote on LRT, I wrote:

After last Saturday’s rally, Jean Haalboom, one of the few supporting councillors willing to stand up for rapid transit and LRT, said to a few of us that we can’t just drop this issue on Thursday if this vote passes. We have to keep on it. 2014’s municipal vote could become a last-gasp money-burning cancellation movement if we go silent again after the immediate fight is won.

Most of us support LRT because we’re thinking about the future, right? Well, it’s time we take the long view. LRT doesn’t get delivered if and when Council votes yes. In the years to come, we need to shepherd it home.

It’s amazing how close that possible future actually came to becoming reality. The immediate fight was won, and then had to be won again, and again. Now we can say with some finality that “yes, LRT will be delivered.” Now we can focus on making sure that what is delivered lives up to the vision.

After all, we’re not done yet: Cambridge has been left out in the cold, and one of the most meaningful gestures we can make to heal the rift and connect our three cities is to extend ION in Phase 2 without hesitation. Connecting Cambridge might take several years, but it needs to happen so we can start to think of ourselves not as three separate cities, but one region.

We live in  the 10th largest urban area in Canada, but our own community self-image is still catching up to this reality. Over half a million people call Waterloo Region home, and we can expect another 200,000 in a couple of decades. Our region has some serious challenges to face in the coming years.

This election may have been a referendum after all. Will we confront the challenges that come with growth? Will we continue to plan and innovate to create a more livable, sustainable place to call home? Are we ready to invest in our future?

The result appears to be a resounding Yes.

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vote-train

It’s time to vote

Today, October 27, is Municipal Election Day in Waterloo Region. Because so much depends on the outcome of this election, please take this opportunity to let your voice be heard by voting.

If you don’t know where your polling station is, you can look it up by city or township using the links below:

Polls are open from 10am to 8pm.

Voter resources from TriTAG

If you’re still on the fence, TriTAG’s Election Candidates’ Survey will help you figure out what candidates will do to improve transit, walking, and bicycling. If you haven’t looked at the survey since we first released it, we now have responses from more than 2/3 of all candidates!

TriTAG has also created an election myth-busting series on issues surrounding light rail. Please share with family and friends who might have misconceptions about light rail transit.

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Screenshot from the game "Mini Metro"

TriTAG calls on Aissa to disclose transit plan

Municipal candidates opposed to ION light rail asked to provide details on what they would build instead

The Tri-Cities Transport Action Group is calling on regional chair candidate Jay Aissa and other municipal candidates opposed to the ION light rail project to reveal to the public what rapid transit solution they would implement as an alternative to ION. To date, TriTAG is not aware of any detailed, fully costed rapid transit plan from any candidate promising to cancel ION.

“Mr. Aissa says he has a plan for transit that is somehow both cheap and comprehensive, yet he hasn’t shown it to voters,” said Michael Druker of TriTAG. “We believe the public deserves to hear the details.”

“If Jay Aissa has the respect for voters he claims and truly believes in transparency, he will share the details of his supposed ‘plan’,” added Druker.

Specifically, TriTAG is asking Aissa and other candidates to provide details concerning:

  • the form of rapid transit they would build (e.g. more iXpress buses, buses with dedicated lanes, subways, etc.);
  • the route their planned rapid transit would take;
  • the debt and tax impact of their plan for both capital and operating expenses, and
  • the timeline for implementation of their planned rapid transit network

“If Mr. Aissa’s plan is dedicated rapid bus service for the ION route, that means more debt and higher taxes over the lifetime of the project. Ottawa has shown BRT means sky-high operating costs and a system that must be converted to light rail at huge expense,” said Taylor Byrnes of TriTAG. “The public needs to know whether Mr. Aissa’s plan can overcome both the cancellation costs for ION and high expenses to meet swelling ridership demand; or whether Mr. Aissa is just making empty promises he can’t keep.”

ION went through a decade of planning and public debate in Waterloo Region. If Mr. Aissa and other candidates want to overturn it overnight, TriTAG asks them to disclose their transit plans so voters have the weekend to scrutinize them before heading to the polls.

More TriTAG election resources:

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vote-train

Mythbusting the election: A week-long series

Monday: Myth #1 “We can save money by cancelling LRT”

Tuesday: Myth #2 “LRT will be more expensive to operate than buses”

Wednesday: Myth #3: “Cancelling LRT will lower your taxes.”

Thursday: Myth #4: “We will be $1.6 billion in debt by 2024.”

Friday: Myth #5: “LRT won’t benefit me.”

It’s election time in Waterloo Region, and it’s getting a bit crazy out there. While many candidates are presenting strong ideas and platforms, a few opportunists have carved out a “cancel LRT” niche, and they’re not afraid to kick the facts to the curbside to sell it. TriTAG is calling them out.

If you’ve been following us for a while, you’ll know that TriTAG has supported ION as a good plan to bring rapid transit to Waterloo Region. But we have also challenged the project team to make ION even better, sometimes being sharply critical of some decisions they have made. TriTAG wants to see ION be the best it can be: light rail will bring a lot of change to our cities, and will bring real transportation choice to many thousands of people. We have to get it right.

But change naturally has some voters concerned, and a few politicians are trying to cash in with single-issue campaigns designed to play up to people’s fears. That’s where we come in. TriTAG is going to put the myths being spread during this election to the test, to help you make your vote an informed one.

We hope you’ll join us.

Want to learn more?

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