On Tuesday, August 25, I paid a visit to Kitchener.
Greyhound suspended all operations in Eastern Canada on May 13, 2020 due to low ridership during the COIVD-19 pandemic. Meanwhile VIA Rail reduced its operations, including Train 85, which departed Union Station at 10:55 AM for Guelph, Kitchener, Stratford, and London. Therefore, GO Transit became the only way to get between Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo for a day trip without a car.
From boarding the 11:53 Kitchener Line train from Union Station, it should have taken just under two hours to get to Downtown Kitchener. Instead, because of a minor train delay, and a failure of the connecting bus to hold for transferring passengers, it took me three and a half hours.
If we value transit users, passengers must not be left behind when making these transfers, especially when connecting between posted connections.
The 11:53 train — which goes only as far west as Mount Pleasant — is scheduled to arrive at Bramalea GO Station at 12:27. There passengers headed to Kitchener must transfer to a GO bus — Route 30 — which is scheduled to depart Bramalea at 12:37. However, the official GO Transit schedule notes that buses will hold for a connecting train, which should take the stress out of making the transfer, especially if the train arrives late.
Because of ongoing construction on the Weston Subdivision (the section of track between Bathurst Street and Highway 407) and a CN freight train blocking the tracks just before Bramalea GO, the train arrived on the platform about eight minutes late.
With construction at Bramalea GO Station itself, including platform improvements, a new station building and parking garage only the easternmost tunnel was open between the train platform and the parking lot and connecting buses. The temporary bus terminal was located on the far western end of the parking lot, with customers required to go down a long flight of stairs, go up another flight of stairs, and find their way around chainlink fencing to make the connection between train and bus.
When I got to the Route 30 platform, there was no bus.
At first, I thought the bus was idling in the layover bay, or perhaps was running a few minutes late. When I saw the eastbound Route 30 bus arriving from Kitchener, I thought it would make the returning trip. But then I saw the bus pull into another bay, drop off passengers, and then go out of service.
Eventually, I asked another GO Transit operator to check in. He replied that the bus had already left, was on its way to Kitchener, and the next one would not depart until 2:37 PM. I chose to take his bus, on Route 48, to Aberfoyle, and from there, transfer to Route 25 to finish my trip to Downtown Kitchener. Despite the longer journey and a 22 minute wait at Aberfoyle, it would get me to Kitchener faster than if I waited for the next Route 30 bus. At least I would be sitting in an air-conditioned bus.
For a trip that was supposed to take 1 hour and 52 minutes, my total travel time from Union Station to Downtown Kitchener was 3 hours and 33 minutes.
Most of GO Transit bus connections at suburban train stations indicate that a bus will hold for a train, indicated by a “h” note in the schedule. This mark is supposed to provide confidence to the customer that the bus will wait if a train (or in some cases, a connecting bus) is late it to guarantee the connection. This did not happen in my case.
A problem specific to Bramalea is the long distance between the train platforms and the temporary bus platforms. Once complete, Bramalea GO will feature new sheltered platforms, additional access tunnels and a more convenient bus loop, but in the meantime, it is a trek (including descending and ascending long stairways or using two elevators) to get between the two modes.
Even if a train arrived in Bramalea on time, it may take a whole ten minutes or longer for an elderly passenger or someone with a disability to make the connection. When buses are scheduled one or two hours apart, it is essential to ensure all customers can make these transfers.
Furthermore, there are very few services at or near Bramalea GO Station, as it is located in an industrial area, surrounded by six lane roads, the railway corridor, Highway 407, and warehouses and factories. Though the station building (which has washrooms) is open weekdays until 8:00 PM, there are no retail or food options within a short walking distance. It’s an unpleasant place to spend any length of time.
As I was stuck at Bramalea on that hot Tuesday afternoon, I noted the irony of a new parking garage nearing completion. While Metrolinx continues to build expensive new parking spaces, those who walk, bike, or take the bus to its stations can be made to feel like an afterthought.
Postscript: A GO Transit customer service representative responded to me after sharing my experience on social media, noting that my connection was missed due to a communication error, and they will follow up with the driver’s supervisor.