The Need for Dedicated Go Train Parking Downtown

I want to be clear in saying the recent announcement regarding provincial investment in track upgrades along Kitchener/Waterloo/Guelph corridor to provide all day two way service to Toronto is a good thing. Who can argue with some extra sleep on the train in the morning, less time behind the wheel, more productive time on the commute home (for you workaholics), and most importantly more quality time at home with our families. These are all positives to commuting on GO. In saying this however, I’m resigned to feel like this announcement only begins to address some of the road blocks facing Guelph commuters. By this I mean, increasing service in Guelph only deals with the “supply” side of the equation; and skips over the equally important “demand” side.

While Go service sounds good on the surface, it’s no secret that ridership in Guelph is very low. Of the thousands of commuters heading into the GTA everyday only a small percentage board here and the vast majority still drive into Milton, Georgetown or Acton to catch their train. So with all of the stated benefits to Go Train use, why (when all of these lines end at the same location) are commuters not jumping on in Guelph?

Well, let me start my response with…..I was one of these commuters.  I would drive to Georgetown or Milton a few times a week in order to catch the Go Train. At times this was taxing but I was happy to do so in order to live and raise a family in Guelph. So imagine my joy when I learned in the summer 2011 that Guelph was starting twice a day service to and from downtown Toronto. The prospect of stress free travel was so appealing. This excitement however, was quickly extinguished the first time I attempted to ride from Guelph. Picture my disappointment; I was driving around downtown Guelph at 6:00am looking for the GO Parking lot when I was finally informed by a friendly city worker that there was no dedicated parking for Go Train Commuters in the downtown; only paid parking lots. My response……”That can’t be?”  Surely the train is not just meant for walk-up riders? Surely the vision of Go Transit in Guelph is to increase daily ridership? Surely the City wants to support downtown patronage by creating a rush-hour twice daily? Surely the economic activity generated by hundreds of daily riders coming through the downtown would be motivation enough for the city to dedicate a GO Transit lot to commuters?

Now, picture further my disappointment when I was informed later that day by Go Transit’s communications department that in fact, this was the case. I was told (very politely) that Go Transit does not guarantee parking in all of its downtown locations. They were however, seeking ways to work with the city to provide this service in Guelph. Upon further discussion I was informed that there are, in fact, two other locations in the GTA that do not provide parking for commuters; those being Union Station and Bloor Station. My response was one of bewilderment. “So of the 100+ Go Train stations in southern Ontario, Union Station, Bloor Station and Guelph are the only stations that do not provide dedicated parking for Go commuters?” The answer was (as of Jan 2012) “Yes”.

Fast forward to today, my question remains; Why are we investing in the supply side of the equation in Guelph if we are not going to invest (i.e. encourage) in the demand side?  To put it another way,  why then are we investing in increased train traffic to Guelph without tackling the primary roadblock to daily ridership; that being dedicated Go Train parking? Even with modest increases in walk up traffic through downtown developments, without somewhere to park downtown, I fear the vast majority of commuters in South and East Guelph will continue driving to Milton, Georgetown or Acton.

Again, two way all day service between Kitchener/Waterloo/Guelph and Toronto is a positive announcement; and for walk-up commuters it will undoubtedly help. Without a Go Train parking lot however, I believe the platforms will remain sparsely populated, downtown Guelph will continue to miss out on the twice daily rush hour and for commuters in the south and east end, the disconnect with downtown will remain.

With this I turn my attention to the forthcoming Master Parking Plan currently in development by City Staff and I encourage council to carefully consider this issue throughout the process; keeping in mind the many ancillary benefits that would be created by providing our daily commuters with dedicated Go Train parking downtown.