Plan unveiled in Sarnia for regional transportation improvements

From the Sarnia Observer:

Transportation expert Greg Gormick wants people to use public transportation to show politicians there is a demand for improvements, including three daily round-trip trains in Sarnia.

Gormick unveiled an improvement plan for rail and bus service in southwestern Ontario during a presentation at Sarnia library on Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015.

Through the co-operation of municipal, provincial and federal politicians, Gormick wants to have 16 daily round trips on VIA’s existing routes and 18 feeder bus lines serving 100 southwestern Ontario communities within five years.

He set the cost at an annual $60 million operating subsidy and $400 million in capital investment.

The cost shock was softened by Gormick saying there’s a current $60-million operating subsidy to rail service. Moreover, $400 million is what will be spent in Toronto to build one kilometre of new subway line.

Gormick’s Network Southwest plan was created for the Southwestern Ontario Transportation Alliance (SWOTA), a regional rail advocacy group.

Gormick said the automobile remains the “junk food of transportation”, dominating the present transportation system. Yet the automobile comes with a big cost and yet has left the region with a mobility gap.

His assertion was supported by audience members who don’t own an automobile who spoke of their own personal experiences, such as being unable to get to Chatham from Sarnia, and having to endure a 10-hour train ride to Ottawa at a cost of $400.

Improved bus service is part of the plan, but the service must be integrated into the regional transportation system, Gormick said.

An intercity bus terminal must connect with rail service and local transit. Mobility hubs that bring all services to one terminal are part of the plan.

Such hubs are part of a successful rail renewal plan in North Carolina, where after years of decline ridership has doubled on some of that state’s rail lines, Gormick said.

Municipal transit systems have the operational expertise for intercity bus service but would need financial support from senior governments, said Gormick, citing it as an example of the need for co-operation among governments.

Local transit provides a person’s first and last miles in an intercity trip, he said.

Beyond the personal hardships, the mobility gap reduces the region’s appeal to new business, said Gormick.

Sarnia’s transportation accessibility is a factor considered by businesses searching for new locations, said George Mallay, executive director of Sarnia- Lambton Economic Partnership, following the presentation.

Closing the mobility gap does not require a one-time giant step but multiple steps using existing facilities. Buses being sold by seniors levels of government could be given to municipal governments and rebuilt for intercity service.

Rather than jumping to high-speed rail service with trains traveling on specially created tracks at speeds of 240 kilometres per hour, high-performance trains with speeds of 160 kilometres per hour could be a starting point.

“That’s the beauty of it (the plan). It can be done incrementally,” said Gormick.

One of first steps is to get people talking about the plan.

Audience members were encouraged to sign provided postcards that will be sent to MPs and MPPs to promote the plan.

“Help sell this plan,” said Gormick.