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New transit measures are only a start

Jun. 13, 2001. 01:01 AM

Senior governments have had so little to say about transit lately that even the small announcements now seem big.

That was the case this week with the news that VIA Rail will rejig its fall schedule to improve connections between Toronto and surrounding cities and let GO Transit riders take its trains to commuter stops.

Speaking at Monday’s smog summit, Transport Minister David Collenette also raised the possibility of train service to Peterborough and Barrie.

“We are trying to act quickly. It’s a modest step but we want to do more,” Collenette said.

The minister deserves some credit. The improved schedule will encourage commuting. But make no mistake, it’s a baby step.

Indeed, it’s surprising that a summit focused on cutting smog would pay so little attention to transit and devote no cash at all to improving it.

As the air in Greater Toronto grows more polluted and the roads grow more congested, senior governments continue to tinker at the margins of what is truly required.

To get people out of cars and cut the life-threatening smog, transit is the way to go.

The numbers tell why. The TTC has boosted ridership by some 100,000 trips a day over the last 24 months. With an average of 1.16 commuters in every car, that means 85,000 fewer car trips every day.

Few other initiatives can have that kind of impact on the roads or the air.

The TTC could do even more if it had the cash to expand. So too could GO Transit.

GO has grown so fast - its April ridership was up 9 per cent over last year - that the system is fast running out of capacity to meet the ever-growing demand.

It’s only when Collenette muses about funding new signals at Union Station, improved parking and track upgrades that he starts to talk about GO Transit’s real needs.

The challenge for Collenette is to turn those musings into firm action. The challenge for Queen’s Park is to resume funding of subways, GO trains and buses.

Such investments would provide a far bigger boost to local transit than a new train schedule.