Elizabeth May, the newly chosen leader of the federal Green party, is currently riding the rails across Canada from Vancouver to Ottawa. May was scheduled to stop in Toronto yesterday evening, where the public was invited to meet and greet with her outside Union Station.
Traveling by train is a fitting and symbolic choice for an environmental leader, since trains are one of the best alternatives to cars for transportation. Investment in all forms of public transit is regularly making the news, both here in Canada and south of the border, where some people are (slowly) trying to turn around a decades-long withering of public transit in the face of surprisingly stiff opposition.
Toronto mayor David Miller was in Ottawa last week looking for more transit funding from the federal government. Focus groups are recommending that Stephen Harper and his Conservatives come out with strong support for public transit in their upcoming major announcement on their environmental policy, pointing out that better transit could be “a huge winner” with many voters, particularly those in big cities. It might also go a long way to counter the existing impression that the Conservatives have abandoned the environment altogether by backing out of the Kyoto protocol.
But voters don’t just want better transit in theory: if decent transit options exist, they actually use them. Gas price pains have converged with the shiny new Viva bus line in York Region to help push transit ridership up 38% over last year. 2.6 million more people took buses in York this year than last. Considering that region can often represent the worst of car-centric suburbia, this is an impressive statistic.
Back in the downtown core, the TTC promises that as of this week many routes will be beefed up with more frequent service to accommodate the busier fall season as the summer lull comes to an end. It’s clear that even despite seemingly endless looming fare hikes, recent walkouts, and bickering about tendering processes, Torontonians still need public transit and still continue to use it. Imagine how many more of us might leave our cars behind every day if the system was even better.
Photo courtesy of the Via Rail galleries.