Canada needs to create a national public transit strategy, include rail - Cowichan Valley Citizen - August 26, 2011

August 29th, 2011 - 10:05pm

By Jean Crowder

This month, transit is once again on many minds in Duncan.

While we enjoy our local public transit service, the lack of affordable options for travel to other communities prevents many people from accessing jobs, attending cultural events or visiting with family members.

In Ladysmith, a local nonemergency medical transport company is planning to start an inter-city bus line that will connect Duncan to Ladysmith and on to Nanaimo.

The owners saw a clear gap and realized they have the vehicles, staff and safety record to fill it.

But the proposed cost of $10 a trip will still price it out of reach for many people.

And unless there is a minimum of 50 riders a day, the company may have to approach local councils for help paying for the service.

The gaps in service, the uncertainty over long-term sustainability and the hodge-podge of transit options all point to the need for a new approach to transit.

Canada is the only G8 country with no national public transit strategy.

New Democrats have introduced a National Public Transit Strategy Act to give the federal government a leadership role so Canadians can have access to good, reliable and affordable transit.

A federal strategy needs to provide permanent investment to support public transit; establish federal funding mechanisms for public transit and establish accountability measures to ensure all governments work together to increase access to public transit.

Without a national strategy, rural areas like ours are ignored because major projects like Vancouver's Skytrain network gobble up all the available funding.

The need is clearly there to move large numbers of people around the Lower Mainland but our communities also need transit investments to ensure our economic prosperity.

My colleagues Denise Savoie and Randall Garrison have called for investments in a light rail transit system for Victoria that could link up with a revitalized E&N railway line.

I have spoken before of the need to invest in the Island Corridor to ensure there is another route for commuters and freight over the Malahat. Rail travel is a proven technology that moves more people and material at lower cost and with lower pollution. Under the federal Building Canada Plan, $10 billion is earmarked for sustainable infrastructure upgrades across Canada, including transit and rail lines.

We can invest now in public transit options like the Island Corridor and make it part of a sustainable development strategy for our region.

The less traffic congestion on the Island Highway, the more productivity of local businesses improves.

A national public transit strategy can help us achieve our transit goals.

Jean Crowder is the Member of Parliament for NanaimoCowichan. She can be reached at 250-746-4896.