Youth may be absent in transit talks

The Waterloo Region rapid transit debate, which will come to a close next month, has yet to achieve a consensus from citizens. In an opinion poll conducted in early May by the Waterloo Region Record, there was a clear division between the options presented.

Only 38 per cent of people were interested in pursuing light rail transit (LRT) despite its approval in 2009 by the regional council. Light rail led only slightly over solely increasing the amount of buses and improving the existing transit system, or improving road infrastructure.
The implementation of a new transit system has the potential to significantly impact the lives of students, most of whom rely on public transportation on a daily basis.

There currently exists a high level of frustration with infrequent bus schedules and untimely service. Stephanie Poon, a student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, uses the bus on a regular basis and has found it to be frustrating at times.

“Sometimes the frequency is not that good,” she complained. Another Waterloo resident and student, Angus (he did not disclose his full name), described public transportation as “slow” and “inconvenient,” particularly in the spring when there are fewer students using the service.

Advocates for LRT believe that it will alleviate the evident slowness of the current system and will best accommodate the projected growth of the city.
Laura Braga, who currently attends the University of Waterloo, noted the environmental benefit of light rail, as it is “more energy efficient [and] reduces congestion.”

Sean Madden, Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union VP of university affairs, sees LRT as a more practical long-term plan. “It really seems the most viable option to us so that we don’t have to renew again in twenty years,” he commented.

However, there are large concerns circulating around the immediate cost, an issue that is providing much of the opposition. The capital cost is estimated at $818 million for LRT with some addition to the bus rapid transit (BRT). Others simply feel that light rail is better suited for a larger city. Scott Finlay, a recent graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University, felt that immediate attention should be focused on increasing the quantity of buses and decreasing the frequency of stops.

“I’d rather more buses and fewer stops,” Finlay said, though he admitted that light rail might be sa future consideration.

Another problem that may be contributing to the division among regional citizens is a lack of education on what each option means for the city, as there are detailed benefits and detriments to each.

Many students are unaware of the transit debate overall, and have done little to become educated on the issue.

When asked if she thought students were engaged on this particular topic, Braga replied “not at all.” This is not necessarily a reflection of a lack of effort by regional councilors. Numerous consultation sessions have been held with the public.

“Student voice is definitely being considered,” Madden argued. “I guess it’s the same old song in terms of engaging people.” He strongly encourages students to contact him regarding any questions about the transit debate and how to get involved.

Final public input meetings will be held on May 31 and June 1 in Kitchener. How the region will proceed with its decision, provided a high level of contestation continues, is an issue that will affect most students, though it currently seems to involve few.

Unless there is a change in participation in the coming weeks, the crucial input of Waterloo’s students may be lost in a storm of disengagement and disinterest.

For a clear infograph on how rapid transit would operate in Waterloo, click here.