Grand River Transit works to improve transportation in KW


Photo by Sharan Rana

Grand River Transit (GRT) unveiled nine new ION busses on Monday, March 19 in Cambridge at a special event at Ainslie Street Terminal in an ongoing effort to improve the decline in overall ridership and quality of transportation between Cambridge and Kitchener.

The first stage, part of the new ION bus rapid transit (BRT) service project being introduced to the Waterloo Region, is an introduction to the ongoing Light Rail Transit (LRT) system that is being established between the Tri-City.

The busses, which will be operating on the newly built ION LRT route, will be travelling between Ainslie Street Terminal in Cambridge up to ION Fairway Station in Kitchener  once the new platform is finished.

The new busses are part of stage one  of the ION LRT project coming to Waterloo Region, beginning service in preparation for stage two, when the BRT system is replaced with the LRT. Stage one will also be featuring LRT trains, operating between the Fairway Station and Conestoga Mall in Waterloo, sometime this spring.

“The whole premise is that the ION bus takes you from Ainslie Street from downtown Cambridge and it follows the route all the way up to Fairview mall, where you have a seamless connection with the ION train,” John Cicuttin, manager of transit development for the Region of Waterloo Transit Services said.

Cicuttin is excited for the introduction of the new bus transit system, as he hopes that it will improve ridership between the two cities, encouraging those who normally wouldn’t ride the bus to be drawn in by the new, modern look.

“They’ll be operating randomly in Cambridge so that the Cambridge folks get a taste of how the new bus operates, some of the comfort features and other features [as well],” Cicuttin said.

The new busses will be supported by a wealth of features not available on the regular GRT models. USB charging stations, wifi, high-back seating, tinted, flush-mounted windows, aluminum wheels, high-visibility white destination signs and special paint scheme consistent with ION light rail vehicles are the main attributes which distinguish these new busses.

“The features are more for comfort — high-backed seats, opportunity to plug in a charger to charge your smartphones, laptops and tablets. We’re testing wi-fi on one of the busses and if it’s successful, we’ll roll it out to the other nine busses,” Cicuttin said.

The overhaul to the GRT bus transit system is part of a constant endeavour to improve the overall standard of transportation development in the Region of Waterloo.

The busses aren’t the only new innovation to the ION bus routes — the new stops have been updated as well.

The new, larger stops have canopy shelters, benches and extra lighting featuring accessible platform edges with textured surfaces, garbage receptacles and bike racks, passenger information displays with real-time bus arrivals and signal priority for approaching buses, allowing buses to bypass traffic line-ups at these intersections, with a direct link to LRT when it launches.

“[These] ION bus stations that have been built along Hespeler Road are larger, more modern looking [stops],” Cicuttin said. “The investment was significant, so the point of that was to give visibility to the service and make it more comfortable for riders. We know that it is a contributing factor to ridership.”

By creating new stations, like the Cambridge Centre Transit Passenger Facility, newer stops and more modern busses, the hope is to increase the quality of service that the Region of Waterloo public transportation can provide to the Tri-Cities.

“Projects like the new ION buses in Cambridge are key to providing inclusive and innovative public transit, making Waterloo Region a stronger and more sustainable community,” said Bryan May, Member of Parliament for Cambridge in a media release on behalf of the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities.

There are no current plans to extend the new ION BRT system to Kitchener-Waterloo. For now, these busses are going to remain on the ION LRT route between Cambridge and Kitchener, until stage two of the LRT system, when they will then be transferred to the 200 iXpress route in Cambridge.

“We specifically have focused the ION busses on the ION bus corridor because the intent is to really give it a feel that it is an extension of the ION LRT,” Cicuttin said.

The overhaul to the GRT bus transit system is part of a constant endeavour to improve the overall standard of transportation development in the Region of Waterloo. Stage one and two of the LRT system, which includes the new ION trains, are expected this spring, but there has been no confirmation as of yet.

“The crux is it’s going to depend on the delivery of all the trains — that is still being finalized,” Cicuttin said. “I think we’ll hear probably within a month or so.”

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