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Link The Watershed aims to establish regional transit system

Local transit workers have drafted a proposal they believe will shorten travel times and improve services for public transit users in the Grand River Watershed
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Transit worker Warren Schnurr has covered a lot of ground over the past 13 and half years working for Grand River Transit, and he has assembled some ideas on how to improve transit services in the region with the Link the Watershed initiative.

“I actually drafted the initiative kind of as a personal project earlier this year and it has grown into this collaboration with my own union, Unifor and the ATU union, which represents Guelph Transit as well as TAAG, the Transit Action Alliance of Guelph,” said Schnurr.  “We’ve all banded together to advocate for this proposal.”

The initiative looks at the proposed benefits of linking eight local urban and rural transit services.    

“In a nutshell, it is taking all of our local transport providers, having them work together to create inter-community links with our existing providers,” said Schnurr. “So, we are talking, Guelph Transit, Grand River Transit, Brantford Transit as well as all the new rural carriers like Wellington Ride Well, Guelph-Owen Sound Transportation (GOST), PC Connect, Brant Transit and Ride Norfolk.” 

Schnurr and his supporters invited local media and transit representatives as well as MPs, MPPs and municipal politicians to take a look at the proposal Tuesday night during a live Zoom presentation chaired by Steve Petric from TAAG.

“We are a transit advocacy group based in Guelph, looking at local transit as well as regional transit,” said Petric. “Tonight, we are pleased to present this concept plan about linking the watershed and this is a conversation starter between this region of Guelph, Waterloo, Brantford, Wellington County, County of Brant and others.”

Schnurr identified the main problem they hope to resolve.

“The urban areas of the Grand River Watershed, namely, Waterloo, Kitchener, Cambridge, the Region of Waterloo, the City of Guelph and the City of Brantford, although close in proximity and local in nature to each other, do not have efficient, if any transit links between them,” said Schnurr.  “Transit users as well as advocacy groups such as TAGG have been vocal for years about the poor connectivity between our communities.”

The problem got worse in the spring of this year when Greyhound announced it was cutting transit services in the region.

“The loss of Greyhound service has exacerbated the already lacking inter-community transit options,” said Schnurr. “When Greyhound was in service, we had some connection ability between Guelph and Waterloo Region that was relatively frequent, but it still was a private carrier that involved paying an extra fare and may not have been the most convenient for people who need local transit.”

Existing services, such as GO Transit are not filling the gap.

“GO Transit service, although available in each urban area is not geared toward these local transit connections and is currently not meeting the needs of transit users who need these local connections,” said Schnurr.  “In fairness to GO, that is not their travel market.”  

Schnurr said that now is the time to address the issue.

“The main obstacle would obviously be funding but the timing of this initiative kind of coincides with the province’s announcement of government funding for projects just like this through the pandemic Safe Restart fund,” said Schnurr.

“They had a press release back in early March that said, we are going to allow municipalities to use some of this funding to link to different regions, connect systems together. This is the perfect opportunity to get everyone at the table and say, look, we’ve got this joint proposal. We can finally fill these missing links in our local transit network, and it would be a benefit to everyone.”

Schnurr said existing services, which can result in transit users spending hours on the bus to reach a destination that takes 30 minutes to reach in a car, discourage people from using public transit.

“Three of our four routes would have a 45-minute, one-way schedule but that also includes the layover time of the vehicle at the end of the line,” said Schnurr.  “One of the routes would have a one-hour, one-way travel time again, with layover accommodated at the end of the line.

These travel times are noticeably shorter than the available transit connections that are in place now.”

Improving transit services and reducing travel times has many benefits including environmental benefits.

“I don’t really touch on that but in general, as a transit worker and someone who supports transit, there is definitely that side to it,” said Schnurr. “If we can establish good quality transit connections and get people out of their cars, that is just going to benefit everyone.”

He said response from transit officials and local politicians who have looked at the proposal has been positive, and their goal now is to get more people to look at it.

“This will be the first public presentation of this,” said Schmidt. “Internally, through our union we have been trying to reach out to our local transit officials and we at Unifor, have already met with GRT (Grand River Transit) staff that are looking at it.  My understanding is that the ATU folks are doing the same on their end.” 

Schnurr hopes to get the public on board as well.

“It is pretty straight forward,” he said.” There will also be a download link for map and graphics and the presentation will be downloadable  “This has been a project on the go for a while and I am just really happy to see that we have been able to team up and get it out there and I am looking forward to it.”

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Troy Bridgeman

About the Author: Troy Bridgeman

Troy Bridgeman is a multi-media journalist that has lived and worked in the Guelph community his whole life. He has covered news and events in the city for more than two decades.
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