Shirley Clements would like to visit her 12-year-old grandson in Richmond Hill.
But her only way to get there from her home in Peterborough’s south end is by GO Transit – a trip that would take more than three hours and require multiple transfers.
“It just takes too long,” she said. The last time she went to visit her grandson was more than two years ago, when she could still take the express Greyhound bus from Peterborough to Toronto. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Greyhound Canada first suspended and then permanently cancelled all of its bus routes in Canada.
That’s why Clements says she loves the Progressive Conservatives’ (PCs) proposal for an express GO Transit bus route from Peterborough to the GTA.
But she doesn’t love the timeline: the bus route would end at a proposed subway station in Richmond Hill that won’t be completed until 2029 or 2030, according to the provincial transit agency Metrolinx. The subway station will be part of the Yonge North Subway Extension that will eventually connect Richmond Hill to Toronto.
“My grandson will be grown and be able to drive himself by then,” Clements said. “A bus to Toronto would be nice – earlier than 2029.”
Trent University student Curtis Anthony is more interested in the Liberal pledge to offer $1 fares on all public transit across the province, including GO Transit, for the next year-and-a-half.
He takes GO Transit from Peterborough to Scarborough at least once a month to see family and for doctor’s appointments. A round trip costs $34.
“It would save me a lot of money… I would be able to see my friends and family without worrying about my credit card statement,” he said. “I’m personally under the opinion that public transit should be free because it’s public, but I doubt the government’s going to do that, at least for a while.”
Anthony is also a regular Peterborough Transit rider. He lives near Trent University, and with express bus service for students now suspended for the summer, commuting to his job in the north end has become more inconvenient. If he misses the bus, it’s a 30 minute wait until the next one arrives.
He likes proposals from the New Democrats (NDP), Liberals and Greens to increase funding for cities’ transit operating costs. The NDP and the Green Party would cover half the cost of running municipal transit services, something the province used to do until the PC government of Mike Harris cut funding in the 1990s.
Anthony hopes more provincial funding would help boost service on Peterborough Transit.
“It will create a more reliable system, and a system that will get you to your job and back without fear… of being late,” he said.
Clements also wants to see more provincial funding go toward improving Peterborough Transit.
She often has to wait 20 minutes or more to transfer buses when she goes shopping on Lansdowne Street. “It would be better if it was at least five or 10 minutes even,” she said.
Ontario’s four major political parties are all promising to spend billions of dollars on public transit if elected on June 2. Here are the details on what they’re offering – and what it would mean for Peterborough-Kawartha.
In its budget last month, the Progressive Conservatives committed to spend $61.6 billion on public transit infrastructure over the next 10 years, including expanding GO train service from Oshawa to Bowmanville, southwest of Peterborough.
The funding will also go toward construction of the Yonge North Subway Extension between Toronto and York Region – which could eventually be the endpoint of a proposed express GO Transit bus route from Peterborough. The route would go from Havelock to Peterborough to Richmond Hill, where it would drop passengers at a planned subway station at Highway 407 and Yonge Street. However that section of the subway line won’t be up and running until 2029 or 2030, according to Metrolinx.
Dave Smith, who is running for re-election for the PCs in Peterborough-Kawartha, did not respond to interview requests for this article. However, during a debate held by YourTV on May 18, he said that although the subway line won’t be completed for several years, “that doesn’t mean that the GO bus will not start before then.”
“In fact, the plan is to have it start before then,” he said. “We’re still in the early stages of it – doing the investigation, doing our due diligence, to make sure that we’ll have the proper ridership for it as well as having the right times for it to go.”
He did not say where the terminus of the proposed route would be until the subway station at Highway 407 and Yonge Street is built.
All of the other major parties have committed to fund transit infrastructure projects, like the Ontario Line subway, that are already approved, according to CBC News.
Transit is not a top issue Peterborough-Kawartha NDP candidate Jen Deck hears about when she goes door knocking. But some voters she has spoken to are frustrated with Peterborough’s “substandard” transit system, she said.
They tell her that transit has gotten worse since the City overhauled bus routes in 2020. “The sense that I’m getting is that people feel like there isn’t the same reliability of service,” Deck said.
She said Peterborough Transit “isn’t good enough to attract riders” because the province has been “starving municipalities” of funding for public services such as transit. “The municipality needs to receive sufficient funding to be able to run a good transit system.”
To that end, the NDP is pledging to spend $2.7 billion dollars over the next three years to cover half of the cost of municipalities’ transit operations.
As for how to improve GO Transit service, Deck said she’s “not sure what the exact answer is” but that if elected she would consult constituents, transit experts and other stakeholders.
The NDP says more public transportation options are needed to connect communities in Ontario that aren’t currently served by GO Transit.
The party is promising to “fill the gap” that was left when Greyhound Canada permanently ended its coach bus services in Canada in 2021. Greyhound once provided bus connections from Peterborough to Toronto and Ottawa.
“I was really sad to see the loss of Greyhound buses in a lot of rural and northern communities,” Deck said. The loss of the service is the “risk that you take when you invest in a private service model,” she said.
Liberal candidate Greg Dempsey said his party’s pledge to reduce transit fares to $1 a ride is going over well in Peterborough-Kawartha – even though transit ridership in the area is quite low.
“It’s the most popular thing that I talk about,” he said. “I think that there are a lot of people in Peterborough who want to take the bus and want to take the train. But … the service has not been reliable enough.”
“So cutting fares is going to be a great way to get people to try the bus.”
Under the Liberals’ plan any public transit ride, including on GO Transit, would cost $1 from 2022 until January 2024. It would cost $1.88 billion to implement, the party estimates. Cities like Peterborough would get some of that money to cut fares.
The party is also pledging an additional $1.2 billion over four years to help cities cover transit operations. The extra funding will “make sure that cities can expand their routes and allow access to safe, reliable transit,” Dempsey said.
While it’s not in his party’s platform, Dempsey said that if elected he will push for better GO Transit service to Peterborough.
The commute between Peterborough and Toronto can take up to four hours on GO Transit, which Dempsey called “completely unacceptable.”
He thinks the PC’s proposal for an express GO Transit bus from Peterborough to a proposed subway station in Richmond Hill is a “good idea.” But he said a solution is needed before the subway is completed in 2029 or 2030.
He’s calling for faster GO Transit bus service between Peterborough and Oshawa – similar to what was in place before 2020, when several stops were added to the route, lengthening trip times. He said he would lobby for a return to the old route within a year or two.
Green Party candidate Robert Gibson has his own idea to get GO Transit riders between Peterborough and Oshawa faster: he would like to see dedicated bus lanes along Highway 115 and Highway 401 to allow buses to keep moving through traffic congestion. His party’s platform promises to triple the number of dedicated bus lanes across the province.
Gibson also likes the PCs’ plan for an express GO Transit bus route to the GTA. But he’d like to see buses rolling before 2029. “I would push for faster approval [if] possible,” he said.
Like the NDP, the Green Party is also pledging to foot half the bill for cities’ transit operating costs. But the Greens would spend $1 billion a year to do so, more than what the NDP estimates.
The platform also calls for electrifying transit systems “as quickly as possible” and an electric bus network to “connect all communities across the province.”
Gibson touted his party’s plan to freeze urban growth boundaries – meaning that cities wouldn’t be able to grow beyond their current footprint – as a way to improve transit. “If we continue urban sprawl, transit will be less effective,” he said.