Todd Letts is on the GO
Photography by Herman Custodio & Trish Kroeger for Enrich Magazine

On the right track

Since moving to Brampton, I voluntarily parked my vehicle and have been taking transit. At the six-month mark, I wrote about it in Get off your Bucket Seats and intended to focus on the political aspects. For those who know me, although my pen has been silent, I have not.

It was very frustrating, because whatever ridiculous strategy was being touted at the time made no sense. Why build the Mt. Pleasant community around a GO transit hub, yet not provide GO service? Sure, there is one-way peak commute, but that doesn’t fuel a community; it imprisons it. Why were we now 25 years from the original 15-year plan in the Metrolinx Big Move initiative? And who said connecting “GO Station to GO Station” meant connecting Port Credit GO Station to downtown Brampton GO instead of Toronto Union having an all day, two-way GO service that includes Mt. Pleasant, Brampton and Bramalea stations?

I’m not an engineer but, looking at the CN bridge on Union Street at Theatre Lane, you see foundation braces built in 1997 that could easily accommodate additional tracks. Where are the additional tracks? Imagine my reaction when a former councillor stated they had already doubled the tracks and asked if I wanted more. Yes! There’s the Queen Street widening that took place in 2008. Why not put a dedicated Bus Rapid Transit or LRT there to connect to Vaughan’s subway extension? Imagine my reaction when another former councillor asked if I really expected them to dig up a beautiful road? Yes!

Mayor Jeffrey on Brampton TransitFor a city which, in 2006, was quick to claim the lion’s share of the 1.64 million population required for Peel Region by 2031 during the Places to Grow act, why make a bold statement to grow yet do everything possible to stunt said growth? Thank goodness we stopped the insanity and elected a new council in October 2014 to get this city on the right track.

In an interview with Enrich Magazine on December 17th, 2014 at Brampton Transit’s Sandalwood Facility, Mayor Linda Jeffrey gave clear indication that transit, though not Brampton’s only issue, is at the hub. It is the main factor as we climb in status among the Top 10 cities in Canada.

Linda Jeffrey had been in Provincial legislature for almost 10 years, yet she hadn’t been utilized as a resource. “What an opportunity missed for us as a council, and as a city, by not using the bench strength you had in Queen’s Park to help manipulate, highlight and advocate for Brampton on a better basis.”

Mayor Jeffrey on Brampton Transit with Victoria Kaye of Enrich MagazineAs I spew all my questions in one big run-on sentence, Mayor Jeffrey reminds me she’s only been on the job for 17 days, and assures me that all is not lost. “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have hope for a future. If you don’t get clear direction, it’s hard to make good planning happen and, frankly, other levels of government won’t sit down with you if you don’t provide clear direction. We need to be clear in our direction. We want LRT in Brampton. We will figure out the route together with the planners but, if we don’t have a bold regional plan for transit, we’re going to fall behind other like-size communities as we won’t be competitive. We need to be competitive. We need to attract more jobs, more economic growth. A post-secondary university would be ideal; an education component will keep our young people here, and it will attract all the other things that help build the kind of city as well as the lifestyle we all want.”

Her optimism is still strong today, after numerous discussions held since taking office – with her colleagues on Council, neighbouring municipal leaders and the Premier, as well as federal and provincial representatives. One bright element in the transit mosaic is Brampton Transit has seen an almost 60% increase in ridership since launching Zűm in 2010.

Mayor Jeffrey with Presto Pass Enrich MagazineIn recent years, attention has been routed to an LRT which, from the start, was on the wrong track. To even think Brampton’s LRT should begin at the end of Mississauga’s Hurontario Main Light Rapid Transit (HMLRT) proposal was reason enough to file commitment papers for the previous council.

What most people don’t realize is Brampton Transit’s success today is from efforts that started 10 years ago. It was achieved with a master plan that had buy-in from Federal, Provincial, Regional and Municipal cooperation. Because of that partnership, Brampton’s Light Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) has become a model that cities across North America want to emulate.

Though talks between Brampton and the Province were stalled, Brampton’s transit master plan was still in play and, conveniently, when talking again was essential, Mayor Jeffrey was able to get all the parties to the table, plus she joined the coalition of Tri-City Mayors to advocate two-way all day GO from Waterloo to Toronto.

Brampton Board of Trade announced they have joined the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph Chambers of Commerce in a similar united force. “Transit is a real driver of economic opportunity; it has been realized in other communities and it makes sense to apply it here as well,” begins enthusiastic CEO Todd Letts as he shares the fact that Bruce McCuaig, the President and CEO of Metrolinx, was at the Board of Trade’s State of the City meeting on February 10th. Todd is confident we should see an increase in GO frequency as early as 2016, and, soon after, two-way all day GO from Kitchener-Waterloo, through Brampton, and into Toronto Union.

DSC_0495 (1)Todd uses the GO train from Waterloo into Brampton and, as we were with him waiting to catch the train home, we noticed how bare the platform was. “You should have been here during the last snow storm and seen how busy the station was,” he stated with a boyish grin, knowing it should be that busy every day, all day.

“It’s important to know municipal boundaries are not relevant anymore in this age. We’re part of a regional economy that includes Western Toronto and Waterloo. We are defined by the ease of flow, the affordability of housing, the ease of transit and the mobility of people.” Todd is excited and sees Brampton being an important connection, not only in North/South relations with Mississauga, but East/West alliances in the innovation supercluster known as Silicon Valley North.

“We are fortunate in Brampton to have the best of both worlds,” Todd acknowledges we have a large logistics business in Brampton and the trucks need the road and rail systems. With the 410 expansion in the east and plans for HWY 413 for western Brampton, “We now need to start thinking modality, with many different modes of transportation linking together, moving people efficiently, locally as well as regionally.”

It takes time for infrastructure to be built, but Brampton’s economy cannot wait for transit to pave the roads to economic growth. This is why there is a strong movement towards growing the intellectual economies and not adding more to our gridlock.

With two-way all day GO, we can court technology and health science businesses to set up in Brampton, attracting talent from not only Brampton, but Waterloo, Kitchener, Guelph, Toronto and Mississauga.

The purpose of Rapid Transit is to move people, not only out of the city, but around the city, in a two-way all day motion. At present, we are concentrating on the exit lanes during rush hour. Yes, the buses and roads are full leaving Brampton in the mornings, but they are empty coming into Brampton.

We have to stop looking at Brampton as a bedroom community and start thinking two-way all day GO, two-way all day Zűm, two-way all day business, two-way all day education, and two-way all day existence.

Two-way all day thinking; now we’re on the right track.

Mayor Linda Jeffrey on Zűm, Photography by Trish Kroeger

BBOT CEO Todd Letts on GO, Photography by Herman Custodio