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Rapid transit - not necessarily light rail -
needed for region's future, two mayors say

by Kevin Swayze

Waterloo Region’s mass transit future has the mayors of Kitchener and Cambridge sharing concern over costs to move a growing population. And they share similar visions about GO passenger trains.

Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig bluntly rejects an $800 million plan for light rail across Kitchener and Waterloo, while Cambridge gets some fast buses down congested Hespeler Road.

He claims a regionwide, fast bus service can be set up for much less money to meet the area’s growing need to move people efficiently. Rapid buses would get people moving sooner everywhere, while he said the light rail plan only offers a promise of an extension to Cambridge, some day.

“I believe in rapid transit, but there are variations on rapid transit, and evolutionary steps in rapid transit,” Craig said Wednesday in a Cambridge Chamber of Commerce gathering at the Galt Country Club.

As a member of regional council, Craig said he will call for buses instead of light rail rapid transit.

When Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr came to Cambridge for Craig’s annual “Mayor’s Breakfast,” he offered similar pause over the best map for Waterloo Region’s transportation future. Zehr also sits on regional council, which has final say over transit.

“I firmly believe we need to think what is involved, in the long term,” he told the audience of more than 100 people.

“What this region needs is to establish a higher order of transit public transit — listen to the words I said — a higher order of public transit. Is that LRT or it is some kind of variation thereof?”

And he supported Craig in Cambridge’s efforts to get GO rail passenger service extended westward from Milton into Galt. Two-train-a-day service was recently announced into downtown Kitchener via Guelph, starting in fall 2011.

Zehr predicts more GO trains will “very quickly” be needed to meet pent-up demand for daily train service to Toronto — and from Toronto to back to the region.

“I am supportive of GO in this region — including that coming to Cambridge — whether the south line from Milton or the north line from Georgetown, into this region.”

Over the years, Zehr has advocated amalgamating local governments. Wednesday, however, he talked of a co-operative future. He sounded little different from Craig, who repeated his call for collaboration between respectful neighbours to encourage economic growth.

Rookie North Dumfries Mayor Rob Deutschmann specifically avoided talking about light rail transit or amalgamation. Instead, in his third day on the job, he pitched the township to business owners in the crowd — who already found promotional flyers on their tables as sat to eat.

“Come down, have a look. We’d love to have you in our community,” said Deutschmann, who also sits on regional council.

He also called on the community and business leaders to join with the township as it hosts the International Plowing Match at Roseville in September 2012.

“You can showcase your business to 200,000 attendees over a five-day period,” he said.