Students get on board for transit Shift in city

Adela Talbot // Western News

Sean Galloway, manager of urban design and GIS with the City of London, talks with Ainsley Gonder, a first-year-student in Western’s Urban Development program, about the Shift rapid transit initiative at a Pints & Politics event at The Wave on Monday.

It’s an understatement, for sure.

Around campus, especially during peak hours, city buses are crowded. They’re often late. And sometimes, when full, they roll by campus bus stops, leaving students to wait for the next ride. But times are changing and London’s public transit is hoping to follow suit – with help from students and the Western community.

“The University Students’ Council (USC) has already been involved in student engagement, when it comes to transit. It’s been pretty involved with the city, in terms of transit consultations, too,” said Jen Carter, USC’s vice-president (external). “We’re working with the city in different ways and trying to get them to talk to students about the future of rapid transit and what it should look like in London.”

The transit discussion made a stop on campus Monday as the USC brought together the Western community, city officials and staff from the London Transit Commission (LTC) to a Pints & Politics event at The Wave. The event provided a forum for students to learn and talk about Shift, an initiative to define where rapid transit in London will go, what it will look like and how it will be implemented.

With the goal of having a rapid transit system in place by 2020, Shift aims not only to provide faster transit service, but also to find environmentally sustainable ways to move Londoners while creating a city where people will want to live and work. Discussions of bus-only lanes and new bus routes that will exclusively move along the city’s artery roads are just one part of Shift’s current vision.

“Students are very frustrated with the current LTC system, and I would say rightly so,” said Carter, who spearheaded a voting initiative on campus in the last municipal election, focusing on public transit as an issue of importance to students.

“The LTC understands they simply can’t offer the service their customers are asking of them. This session (Pints & Politics) is looking forward and asking students what they would like to see in the future,” she added, noting students represent the bulk of LTC ridership and have valuable insights to offer.

At the event, city officials offered a presentation outlining the Shift initiative. Afterwards, they mingled alongside LTC staff, speaking to students and asking for input on transit options. The city provided students with a survey, asking where they feel a rapid transit system should be provided, how it would affect them and how they would access it. Campus maps were also provided to those in attendance, asking students to draw a rapid transit system route within the Western community, outlining stops along the way.

“Students provide a unique perspective. It’s very much a student-driven issue – the routes coming into Western are the most congested,” said Edward Soldo, director of roads and transportation with the City of London, at the helm of the Shift initiative. “We’re talking to various groups, about 3,600 people so far, and we are focusing on Millennials and students because they’re the ones most likely to make that shift in the future and utilize transit.

“Right now, we’re still in early stages of the study. Our hope is to get everyone engaged. Getting into Western and how we actually go into Western (with transit) is paramount. If we create a rapid transit system that doesn’t provide service to our main customers, that is a failure.”

But the city can’t build itself out of congestion, Soldo stressed. Widening a road to accommodate traffic congestion is the same as loosening a belt when you’re already overweight. To address the transit issue properly, consultations are key.

So is funding.

With this concern, Carter has stepped up to the plate with an idea to get transit on the agenda in the upcoming federal election.

“Obviously, rapid transit in London will be expensive. I would argue that the last cog to fall into place for funding rapid transit in London is most likely the federal government,” she said.

Following talks with the city and the Fanshawe Students’ Union, the USC is hoping to start a citywide petition to get federal support for rapid transit.

“Transit is not directly a federal issue but it is a funding issue. It will come down to how our MPs (members of parliament) are going to support that initiative. With the petition, we want to try and control a bit of the conversation MPs and candidates will be having in the election season this fall,” Carter explained.

“If we can get a bunch of groups in the city to ban together for a certain specific cause, like transit, that will resonate with MPs running in this area. MPs running in the fall will be forced to answer questions because so many people have demonstrated an interest in this topic.”