Show me the (transit) money

2015 was an expensive year for users of Durham Region Transit (DRT). While the PRESTO card program has been fully implemented across the system, standard fares went up by 25 cents per ride in May. In October, the price of the mandatory transit pass is set to increase to $300 per academic year (or $150 per term) for DC-UOIT students.

Despite the billions of dollars being invested by all levels of government into transit infrastructure in Durham and the GTA, such as DRT Raleigh’s new $104 million maintenance facility and a new pedestrian pass at Ajax Station, DRT has yet to announce plans to expand service to DC and UOIT. As a result, the communities of Durham Region are still dependent on cars, including students enrolled at any of the multiple DC and UOIT campuses in Oshawa and Whitby.

While it is unrealistic, and even silly, to think that public transit could replace cars on Durham Region’s roads and highways, it is possible to reduce the amount of traffic on those roads by making public transit more efficient and convenient in and around Durham Region.

Durham Region and its communities are uniquely situated when it comes to public transit, at least compared to other Canadian communities. Durham is already served by GO Transit’s Lakeshore East line as well as a number of different bus routes. You can go directly from Oshawa Station, just off the 401, to Union Station in downtown Toronto in just under one hour.

For daily commuters, or those people who work in Toronto but live in Durham Region, the GO train is the best alternative to driving. According to GO 2020, GO Transit’s strategic plan, ridership outside the City of Toronto is expected to triple the number of riders from 2008. As a result, GO plans regular departures every 15 minutes from Oshawa Station and will add rush hour service to Bowmanville on a soon-to-be-completed extension of the rail corridor.

That plan is being funded and implemented by Metrolinx and GO, but what is DRT doing to address this growth?

In 2013, Durham Region Transit launched their ‘DRT PULSE’ rapid transit route on the Highway 2 corridor between Oshawa, Pickering and Scarborough. This investment, funded mostly by an $82.3 million dollar commitment from the Ontario government, was a big step for the still maturing regional transit network serving rapidly growing communities across a large area. The project was developed, in part, to increase access to the U of T Scarborough campus for residents of Durham’s suburban communities.

Can DC and UOIT expect the same commitment from the Province and DRT?

Of the proposed service enhancements for 2015, released last year, two address service to and from Oshawa campus. Neither of those enhancements will offer rapid or express service to the Lakeshore East line or satellite campuses of Durham and UOIT.

While “increased service during peak periods” on the 915 Taunton bus and a link to Brooklin will be welcomed with open arms, more still needs to be done to serve the shivering hoards of students huddled around the Oshawa Campus bus loop. Recent reports from the administration indicate that the combined enrolment of Durham and UOIT is over 22,000 full-time students, with that number expected to go up in coming years.

On the other hand, 12,000 students total are enrolled at U of T Scarborough. Yet only a small number reside in Pickering, Oshawa and the rest of Durham Region.

Meanwhile, many of the 22,000 students at DC and UOIT’s suburban campuses see driving as the best, if not the only, option to commuting to and from class.

In October, the Durham Regional Council approved a 25 per cent increase to the transit pass, to be included in the mandatory fees for all students. By 2018, this will translate to an extra $1,320,000 per year for DRT directly from DC-UOIT students.

As students, we understand universal truths: that the cost of living for everyone is doomed to grow over time, that a falling dollar and struggling economy bring difficulties and that nothing in life is free. But we also know that an annual increase in costs should at least come with an increase in service.

One might hope that both the DC-UOIT administration and DRT would do more to encourage better service and increased use of public transit. Increased use of public transit reduces congestion on local roads and vast parking lots occupy valuable space on a growing campus. The broad expanse of parking lots could be used more effectively to increase academic space or attract research grant and sponsorship money.

For DC-UOIT to get more direct, express service to its campuses, there needs to be a financial commitment from all parties involved. The province has stepped up with hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for the PULSE service and other infrastructure upgrades, the students of DC and UOIT will contribute another million dollars a year in perpetuity. It’s time for DRT to do their part and bring express and PULSE service to the people that pay for it.