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Intercity Rail Ontario Transit

Mapping Ontario’s transit connections

T:GO inter-community transit van at Woodstock VIA Rail station, September 2020

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, several new inter-community transit services launched in Ontario during the last few months.

Last August, T:GO began service on four routes radiating from Tillsonburg, where there was already an in-town circulator service. Mondays through Fridays, twenty-seater vans operate between Tillsonburg, Norwich, Woodstock, Ingersoll, and other communities, offering connections to Woodstock Transit, the hospital, and the VIA Rail Station.

In September, the City of Owen Sound, Grey County, Middlesex County, the town of Strathroy-Caradoc, and Prince Edward County all launched their own services, connecting rural communities and small towns to larger centres such as London, Guelph, and Belleville. In addition, Simcoe County expanded its Linx bus service to serve Alliston and Beeton, and other services, suspended during the early days of the pandemic, resumed operations. Also this year, Niagara and Durham Regions expanded their rural on-demand transit services.

GOST minibus at Owen Sound Transit Terminal

All these new services help to fill the gaps left behind by private coach companies; these have become especially vital as Greyhound Canada suspended all operations in Ontario and Quebec this year (after abandoning Western Canada in 2018), and Coach Canada (operating as Megabus) cut service on some of its routes.

While these new intercommunity routes help to serve local needs, there is a wide variety of service provided in rural and small town Ontario. But without provincial coordination, it is nearly impossible to keep track of them all, never mind plan a trip.

So I went ahead and mapped them all the best I could. Clicking on each route brings up a pop-up window containing further information, including a link to each agency’s website, where available.

Link to interactive map

Intercity rail and coach services

Greyhound bus at Barry’s Bay, Ontario

At the top of the hierarchy are national and regional intercity services: VIA Rail Canada, Greyhound, Coach Canada/Megabus, and Ontario Northland. Smaller companies including TOK (formerly Can-Ar Coach) and Kasper provide scheduled services out of Toronto and Thunder Bay, respectively.

In 2018, Greyhound Canada abandoned what was left of its coach service in Western Canada and Northwestern Ontario. In May 2020, citing a 95% reduction in ridership due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Greyhound suspended its remaining operations in Ontario and Quebec.

Coach Canada suspended its Kitchener-Hamilton route, but it continues to operate its Toronto-Kingston-Montreal and Toronto-Niagara routes, at reduced frequencies. Ontario Northland and TOK reduced service, but they still operate all of their bus routes.

VIA Rail now runs two trains a day between Toronto, London, and Windsor, one train from Sarnia to Toronto via Kitchener, and several daily trains to Ottawa and Montreal. The remote Sudbury-White River RDC service runs once a week, while the flagship Canadian through Northern Ontario is suspended.

Regional and commuter transit systems

Simcoe County Linx bus at Georgian College in Barrie

Ontario has several commuter and regional bus services, including GO Transit, Niagara Region Transit, and Simcoe County Linx. Several urban transit systems also provide rural services that extend from their primary service boundaries. These include Grand River Transit and CK Transit. These routes run at least five days a week, and are intended to connect with other transit services. They are useful for regular commuters and students, as well as infrequent travelers.

The City of Ottawa has a large network of rural commuter coach services, though they are intended to serve office workers in Downtown Ottawa and Gatineau, with many routes operating just one round trip a day. Several are operated by OC Transpo, with others are run by private coach operators under contract to municipalities. These routes are also mapped, though some may not be operating during the pandemic.

Inter-community transit services

Most inter-community routes have been established within the last two years, largely thanks to a provincial grant program. However, several rural routes in the Quinte region (Belleville and Trenton) were established much earlier to provide access to employment centres and health services in the larger communities.

Each municipality has set up their own system based on their own needs. Some routes operate only one or two times a week, which are useful for shopping or medical trips, but not for commuters. PR Transpo in Eastern Ontario is a good example of this. Others run on direct, straight routes to connect small towns with larger centres (GOST, connecting Guelph to Owen Sound, is a great example). Ride Norfolk, in Norfolk County, is a hybrid of the two approaches: sporadic trips to small communities outside of Simcoe, and a direct, weekday bus service to Downtown Brantford from Simcoe on a commuter-friendly schedule.

Rural on-demand transit

In Brant CountyWellington County, and parts of Niagara and Durham Regions, on-demand transit is provided instead of fixed bus routes. Some services only run during weekday daytime hours, while others offer seven-day-a-week pickups. Though most on-demand services in Ontario are operated by or on behalf of a municipality, the Town of Innisfil decided to subsidize Uber rides, with mixed results.

Areas with rural on-demand transit are indicated as polygons on the map.

Planned future services

New intercommunity routes are planned in Perth County. PC Connect would Stratford and St. Marys with smaller communities, while Stratford’s planned intercommunity service would connect it with nearby Kitchener-Waterloo and London. Lambton Shores, north of Strathroy, is almost ready to launch its own service to Sarnia and London. Commencement of a route between Trent University in Peterborough (connecting to local and GO buses), Lakefield and Curve Lake First Nation has been delayed by the pandemic.

Mind the gaps

Despite these new bus services, many gaps – large and small – remain. The most obvious gap continues to be the one between London and St. Thomas, where there are no bus or passenger rail connections between the two cities.

It just seems odd that most other communities surrounding London — Strathroy, Tillsonburg, Ingersoll, Woodstock, and Dorchester — have launched their own services (with connections Stratford and St. Marys soon to come), yet St. Thomas and Aylmer have been left out.

The lack of a proper connection between Trenton and Belleville is another obvious gap, and Halidmand County – including Caledonia and Hagersville – is left off the map, despite recent initiatives in neighbouring Brant, Norfolk, and Niagara.

Each intermunicipal transit service also has their own approach to connecting to other transit services. In Woodstock, T:GO and Middlesex County Connect serve the main local transit terminal, while T:GO also stops at the nearby VIA station. Ride Norfolk serves the Downtown Brantford Terminal for connections to Brantford Transit and GO Transit (or Brant eRide). But LTW Transit, serving Leamington, Kingsville, Essex, and Windsor, chooses to stop only at community recreation centres and St. Clair College. Though transfers to Transit Windsor buses are available at St. Clair College, the recreation centres, located far from each towns’ centre, are not convenient for most potential riders.

Conclusions

Though these new regional and intercommunity services are important, it would be nice to see some cooperation and coordination to ensure potential riders are aware of these connections, and that they connect with each other and with local and intercity services whenever possible. This information must be readily accessible.


Please leave a comment or contact me directly with any updates, suggestions, or missing services.

2 replies on “Mapping Ontario’s transit connections”

I have further comment pending, but for now agree completely. The opportunity for connecting to trails not normally attained by GO is beyond exciting.

GOST especially is a pending adventure for me next season, but there’s others, and I’m sure the cycle carrying aspect will be explored by many.

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