Regional chair candidates driving for transportation improvements

Durham Regional chair candidates (from left) Thomas Dingwall, John Henry, John Mutton, Muhammad Ahsin Sahi discuss their campaign ideas at a recent forum at Ontario Shores. Peter Neal was not in attendance. Photo credit: Meagan Secord

The wheels are turning for Durham Regional Chair candidates who are speaking out about improving local transportation issues.

The candidates for the Durham Regional Chair in the Oct. 22 election are John Henry, the current mayor of Oshawa; Thomas Dingwall, Durham Regional Police officer and former homicide detective; John Mutton, former mayor of Clarington, Muhammad Ahsin Sahi, business and real estate lawyer, and Peter Neal, who works in industrial, commercial, investment real estate.

The winner will take over from Gerri-Lyn O’Connor, who held the job on an interim basis after long-time chair Roger Anderson passed away in March.

Improving Durham Region Transit bus routes and efficiency were discussed by the candidates at a recent forum.

Durham College students receive a Durham Region Transit (DRT) bus pass as part of their tuition.

But the system isn’t working well for all, Henry says.

“We have a problem that the (DRT) Pulse route doesn’t connect into Courtice and Bowmanville,” says Henry, addressing routes in the eastern part of Durham. “We also have a challenge in the north trying to maximize efficient transit.”

Henry says transit officials and the public should be consulted frequently in order to resolve any issues.

“We don’t ask you, we don’t participate enough with the public, this is your life, your business, your community, you should have a part and say in how we do things,” he says.

“The difficulty is…you can use the gas tax to subsidize a new route for up to a year, but after that, the route has to be self-sustaining, so if you don’t have the ridership the route will fail,” says Dingwall.

Working with UOIT and Durham College to coordinate bus schedules with student scheduling is one of the plans Dingwall has to improve transit.

“It is unreasonable for students to spend hours on a bus or transferring to multiple buses to get to their schools,” says Dingwall.

“We are not doing enough on the Durham Region transit end,” says Mutton. “We need to take a full-service review of our transit system, bring in the experts maybe from the TTC.”

He thinks the way to increase ridership and get more routes established is to make transit more appealing.

“We can increase ridership by making kids ride free, we also need to decrease the student fares.”

Ahsin Sahi believes students shouldn’t have to pay for transit.

“If you are a student, no matter what age you are, you should have a free pass.”

All of the candidates also have plans to fix the tolls on Highway 407 connector highways.

The Hwy. 407 has two connector highways in the Durham Region, Hwy. 412 and Hwy. 418. However, they are the only two connector highways along the 407 to have tolls on them.

Henry says he’s frustrated the tolls have been put on the highways and they’re “asking that those tolls be removed.”

“It’s a matter of fairness, none of the other feeder highways to the 407 are toll roads, only the ones in Durham Region. Why are we being treated differently?” says Dingwall. “Everybody should be advocating to remove those tolls, they should’ve never been put on in the first place.”

Mutton has a different approach.

“If they’re not going to be making them toll free, what I would like to do with the connectors in Durham region is that we get some type of a revenue source for the region coming out of it,” Mutton says.

Ahsin Sahi says the toll roads are in the hands of the provincial government and there isn’t much to be done at the municipal level.

“Of course I would support the removal of any tolls. But, it’s a very provincial issue,” says Ahsin Sahi.