As a frequent transit rider, I have strong and valid (or at least I think so) opinions but I sometimes wonder if anyone is listening. Well its nice to know, sometimes the answer is YES! After this little exchange on Twitter last week, Matt VanDongen and I continued our chat on the phone. I didn't know until today though, that my opinions were carried through into an article in the St Catharines Standard!
If you build it, Kate Job thinks they will come. The downtown St. Catharines resident regularly rides the provincially subsidized GO Bus to Burlington, where she has family, or to catch a connection to Toronto. She'd much prefer to hop the train, however.
"It would beat lining up at a sign on a pole at Fairview Mall, that's for sure," said Job, a greenhouse technology student at Niagara College.
She has gratefully made use of the limited seasonal tourism train between Burlington and Toronto, which starts this weekend for 2011. She finds the VIA Rail station easier to access as a pedestrian and cyclist, for one thing. And walking your bike onto a commuter train car is a little easier — and faster — than stuffing it onto the front of a bus bike rack.
"And I just think more people would take the train over the bus," she said.
Local GO Train boosters certainly hope so.
A new environmental study report released Thursday outlines relatively modest ridership forecasts for a potential GO commuter train expansion into Niagara.
Daily trips between Hamilton and Niagara Falls are estimated at up to 3,800 by 2016, according to the report. That includes riders from stops in Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Grimsby, but also Hamilton stops Casablanca and James St.
A special "ridership forecast" study, included in the report, breaks down the numbers further.
Paradigm Transportation Solutions suggests daily one-way trips along the corridor could range between 1,050 and 1,900 in 2016.
An estimated 200 Garden City residents might be expected to jump on the Burlington-bound train in the morning; about 80 incoming passengers might get off in St. Catharines in the a.m. The estimated daily total provided for St. Catharines in 2016 was about 420 riders.
The report notes Niagara-area ridership forecasts are "generally lower" than those in other GO rail corridors, due in part to the peninsula's dispersed urban areas, an "attractive" QEW highway and the "relatively long" rail trip around Hamilton Harbour.
By comparison, the report points to 2,500 daily trips out of the Hamilton and Aldershot GO stations each day, as well as a similar number out of the Milton station. The Richmond Hill station, serving a population of about 200,000, serves about 4,200 riders daily.
St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullan argued on Thursday the predicted Niagara numbers are "conservative."
Job thinks so, too.
She said students like herself "already use the GO bus a lot."
GO Transit couldn't provide any statistics on the popularity of the current bus service in Niagara Friday.
On weekday mornings and Friday nights, Job said the buses get crowded. On the other hand, she's also travelled on non-peak period buses with just a handful of riders.
"But I do think you would see more riders for the train as opposed to the bus," she said. "I'm surprised they didn't do this (expansion) a long time ago. I think it's overdue."
Standard readers generally agreed in postings on Twitter and Facebook — provided the prospective service was timely and affordable.
"I would, if it was a direct route," wrote Angela Browne. "Taking a bus to Fairview, then another bus to Burlington, then hopping a train there is too (many) transfers for me."
St. Catharines resident Adam Selvig said he'd like to take the train, but wondered if too many stops would make the trip too long.
Tarek Yassine said he'd jump a Garden City GO train if it ran year-round and more consistently. "In the next five years the commute is only gonna get longer," he wrote.
The public can comment on the GO train environmental study report for the next six weeks. To see the report, visit www.gotransit.com.