Last month, there was a little commuter challenge in the Waterloo Region, in which Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr, Waterloo Mayor Brenda Halloran, and 570 News announcer Mike Farwell traveled by Hybrid car, bus transit, and bicycle between Waterloo Town Square and Cambridge City Hall, where they were met by Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig. The results were mostly unsurprising. Transit by car is clearly the fastest, completing the journey in 33 minutes. The trip by bus completed in just under an hour. What did surprise me was that the cyclist arrived only fifteen minutes after the bus.
With the recent announcement by the federal government, promising up to $265 million dollars for the regional rapid transit plan, involving rapid light rail, I think it’s worthwhile mentioning that some areas of Waterloo Region don’t have bus service at all. When I attempt to use Grand River Transit’s trip finder to plan a trip, entering my location can’t even find me a bus that goes nearby. Using Google Maps, I find out that the nearest bus route is a half-hour walk from my house. I’m inside Kitchener city limits, and this walk would be along developed streets. It’s not like I’m walking through the woods to Grandma’s house here.
The remainder of the route would still take another hour to an hour and a quarter to complete a trip to the University of Waterloo, near where I work. I can complete the drive in under a half hour, less than the time required to walk to the nearest bus stop. Waterloo Region council can talk all they want about how awesome the rapid light rail will be, and how it will encourage higher density development along the core of the region, but until a bus route comes near my neighbourhood, I won’t be using it. Waterloo Region is still very much an automobile oriented community, and tossing money at light rail is not going to be the quick fix that some members of the community is suggesting.
What the rapid light rail plans can provide is a fast central corridor, which will supposedly build up the core of the cities. The city then needs to work on bus lines that link up to the rapid light rail line as quickly as possible. If a bus could get me from my neighbourhood to the light rail in a reasonable amount of time, the regional transit system could then start to become competitive, at least in my mind.