I hail from the small city of Chatham, Ontario. Its population is 43,000, give or take a horse or two. No matter where you live, it is a half hour walk to the center of our fair city. We have five bus lines that run every hour and the buses themselves hold less than twenty people, including standing room.
With a population just over half a million, the Region of Waterloo and Grand River Transit (GRT) operates on a very different continuum than my home town. Nearly 40,000 people use GRT daily, along nearly sixty bus routes. The fall schedule brings new routes and an increase in the frequency that routes operate. For many workers, including myself, the fall schedule allows that sigh of relief.
A sigh of relief, you ask? During the summer schedule, the majority of routes are limited to service every 30 minutes, or even hourly.
I am lucky; I can walk to my job at the Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group office from my apartment in less than thirty minutes. I am also quite lucky to have a steady job.
Our unemployment rate is at 7.2 per cent, and the poverty rate in the Region of Waterloo remains at a steady 11 per cent One in three people in the Region of Waterloo can be classified as a part of the working poor (living below the poverty line while working), according to the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council’s presentation on poverty and precarious employment.
A recent strategic report produced by the Region of Waterloo states that the number of citizens who use GRT to go to work is just under five per cent. Meanwhile, 43 per cent of residents live within five kilometres of their job(s). With a number as high as 43 per cent of the population living so close to work, why is our number of public transit commuters a mere five per cent?
It comes back to the summer schedule. In a city that sets our transit schedules based on our students, we ignore the population that stays past graduation, often the ones who become life-long users of public transit.
We ignore those who work shift work (either to support their education or family) and have to buy a car because there are no buses on their route after 10 p.m. How can we actively support job growth in the region when one cannot even get to work due to poor transit availability? How can we turn a community created on horse-drawn carriages into a public transit superstar?
In a city that boasts about being an intelligent community, it seems odd that every eight months we revert to having a transit system no more helpful than the one I grew up with and longed to leave.
Currently the Executive Director of the Laurier Students’ Public Interest Research Group (LSPIRG), Samantha’s current goal in life is to lower world suck by being awesome.