Photo by Sean Marshall on Flickr, licensed under CC-BY-NC

Don’t overlook the humble bus

With yesterday’s announcements about future all-day GO trains in Kitchener, improvements to bus service might not seem all that exciting. But it would be a big mistake to overlook this leap forward in improving inter-city mobility that express buses to Brampton represents.

Local politicians, business leaders, and folks like you and I have been calling on the province for years to bring two-way, all-day GO train service to Kitchener. But with CN owning a section of the track through Brampton for its primary freight corridor, there hasn’t been a way to fit many more trains than the (repeatedly announced) two additional peak-direction trips. Finally however, a long-overdue agreement has been reached with CN which will enable the (eventual) improvement of service to Kitchener, including faster electrified trains. The government’s pledge of full two-way service by 2024 will be hard to meet – part of the agreement will require building a multi-billion dollar bypass freight corridor, likely parallel to the 407, and the single track between here and Georgetown will need to be upgraded and twinned, but we finally have a realistic path forward.

In the interim, we’ve been hoping that GO would offer express buses to a station on the Kitchener Line with more frequent service.  This could be done almost immediately without the need for years of planning and rail upgrades. It would build ridership ahead of the trains coming, much like how the iXpress 200 has paved the way for ION light rail service.

Indeed, this is what the province has pledged – starting this September, express buses will run from Kitchener to connect with trains and buses at Bramalea station, where there is hourly (or better) service. We don’t know the exact schedules yet, but depending on the time of day and traffic, this could mean trips to Toronto’s Union Station could take 15-30 minutes less by bus and train than the two current Kitchener trains along the Guelph subdivision’s dilapidated track. If service is frequent enough, this could mean more people would be liberated to take transit to commute between Waterloo Region and Toronto, in either direction. It would also open up another transit option for getting to Pearson Airport.

This isn’t to say buses are enough – it’s likely that these will need to run non-stop to Bramalea to be worthwhile for passengers into Toronto and Brampton, so barring some other announcement, we’ll still need to wait for a desperately needed transit connection to Guelph. Buses will also be vulnerable to traffic congestion on the 401, though use of the 407 and future HOV lanes will help. But let’s not underestimate the importance of more frequent connections into the GTHA, giving people more choice in where they live and work and how they travel around.

Photo credit: Sean Marshall on Flickr, licensed under CC-BY-NC.