Friday, May 14, 2010

A No-GO for Peterborough

With the budgetary situation as strained as it is, there are a lot of people in Ontario and Canada who won't always get what they want. The recent postponement and foreshortening of Toronto's planned Transit City LRT lines is one of the more talked-about examples in the media, but Toronto's not the only city that's having to deal with 2010's new normal. The city of Peterborough, a regional center of 77,000 people 125 kilometers northeast of Toronto, has as of late been trying to become more integrated into GO Transit's regional transit network. It's something that's already begun - there's currently a GO Bus route that connects Peterborough with Oshawa GO Station, an alternative that didn't exist when I lived there. In the early 2000s, the Greyhound down the 115 was pretty much the only game in town.

Nevertheless, as even people with a passing interest in transit may have noticed, there's a large chunk of people out there who just don't ride buses. Plenty of these people will, however, ride trains - be they streetcars, subways, or the commuter rail system that forms the backbone of GO Transit's regional network. With that in mind, Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro of the Conservative Party has recently been championing the establishment of regular commuter rail service between Peterborough and Toronto.

Metrolinx threw cold water on that prospect on Monday, when it released a report suggesting that "the most basic commuter rail service" in 2016 would come with a price tag of $541-million, with the most thorough service calculated to cost $1.5-billion - greatly in excess of the $150-million each the provincial and federal governments committed in 2008, contingent on the findings of Monday's report. Del Mastro is, unsurprisingly, not taking it sitting down. "It's not possible that this would cost $25 million a year to operate," said Del Mastro as quoted by the Peterborough Examiner - because, you know, an MP with no apparent background in railway planning absolutely knows what he's talking about more than the people who actually do this sort of thing for a living.

Beyond that, though, I have to ask a question that everyone else involved in this situation seems to be taking for granted - would Peterborough be better off with a direct commuter rail link to Toronto? I, personally, would say no. As I mentioned before, I lived in Peterborough for three years while attending Trent University, and it was a good city. In part, I liked it because it was seemingly preferable in all respects to Barrie, a similarly-sized city that even then was dominated by sprawling subdivisions. I didn't find many Barrie-style suburbs at all while I was in Peterborough. Peterborough seems to be a regional center to a far greater degree than Barrie is - and it doesn't seem as easy to live a commuter lifestyle there. Peterborough's more than an hour and a half by car from Toronto on the best days. Barrie is significantly closer.

If this issue was about extending all-day rail service, the arithmetic would be different. But it's not, and there's no way I can support what Del Mastro's pushing. To put it bluntly, when municipalities around the province are running up aganst deficit walls and being told to forget the promises made to them, he's still gung-ho about spending $300-million so that a small number of people can work in Toronto and buy big houses in Peterborough. This is not the sort of thing the government should be encouraging! The fact that he's crying out for this when a number of people greater than the entire population of Peterborough is being left in the lurch by the cuts to Transit City is just icing.

There's a time and a place for everything. If this was something else - say, a Peterborough Light Rail demonstration project, or something else of direct public benefit, I'd likely be behind it. As far as I'm concerned, the time is not now and Peterborough isn't the place. It's too nice of a city to be ruined by easy commuting.

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