Roads Transit

GO’s gaping gap, gone

My experiences riding the new GO Transit Route 17, and thoughts on improving Route 21

Route 17 bus arriving at University of Waterloo Station

On Monday, April 10, 2023, GO Transit filled a big hole in Ontario’s intercity transportation web with Route 17, which connects three major urban centres, four universities, and two existing GO Transit rail corridors. On that day, I made my way to Waterloo and rode one of those first buses south towards Hamilton. Nearly a month later, I made a second trip, from Guelph and Downtown Hamilton, on May 5.

Sign post at University of Waterloo indicating the stops for Route 17

The bus originates at the new University of Waterloo bus terminal, located adjacent to the Ion LRT corridor and on the far east side of the university campus. It then stops in front of Wilfrid Laurier University, on Victoria Street North in Kitchener’s east end, at Guelph Central Station, University of Guelph, the park & ride lot in Aberfoyle, Aldershot Station, McMaster University, and Hamilton GO Centre.

Waterloo-bound Route 17 bus at Guelph Central Station, May 5, 2023

On the first day, the experience was more interesting than I expected, as the driver, new to the route, missed the turn from the Hanlon Expressway (Highway 6 through Guelph) towards Downtown Guelph. Luckily, dispatchers were able to guide the driver back on route after a short delay, so it only made for a roundabout tour of some of Guelph’s residential neighbourhoods, where GO Transit has certainly not gone before (and probably won’t, ever again).

On congested Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph

Sitting at the top of the front of a double decker bus (so far, I had my choice of seats as the route is still new and not too busy) gave me a view of the traffic congestion in the western Greater Golden Horseshoe. Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph is still a two-lane road, without even paved shoulders to make it a bit more cycling friendly. Though there are a few GO trains on the adjacent railway, the service is sporadic and only runs on weekdays. A new four-lane freeway has been planned for decades, with some preliminary work started, but a regular two-way, all-day train service, and more bus links to places like Cambridge, would be even more effective in meeting travel demands in the region.

Highway 6 south of Highway 401 is also very congested, and a new highway bypass is planned to divert traffic around a two-lane section through Morriston and Puslinch Station. Clearly, there’s a lot of travel demand between Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, and Hamilton, but transit options have always been severely limited.

Thankfully, Metrolinx is upgrading the western portion of the Kitchener Line, with a second platform under construction at Guelph Central Station, and work started on new passing sidings between Kitchener and Georgetown. But it will be several years at least before the upgrades allow for regular, two-way, daily passenger rail, so the bus will have to do.

At Aldershot Station

In my review of GO’s service changes earlier this month, I argued that Route 17 was trying to do too much with a single bus route. Riding the corridor from end-to-end (albeit on two separate occasions), I could not help but feel frustrated by the southern end of the route, where the GO bus goes east on Highway 403 to connect with Aldershot Station, then backtracks to get to McMaster University, then turns around to get to Downtown Hamilton. I understand that all three destinations are important trip generators (Aldershot allows passengers from Burlington, Oakville, and southern Mississauga to get to Guelph and Waterloo, McMaster University is a reliable trip generator, and Downtown Hamilton is a busy urban hub), but for someone to get between Hamilton and Guelph or Waterloo, it’s a long way out of their way.

I am hopeful that GO Transit uses the summer down time to see where passengers are going and coming from and make route adjustments or add express runs once classes resume in September.

Map of GO Transit Route 17

A note on Route 21

Last month, when previewing the new GO Transit changes, I discussed the changes to Route 21 (the Milton Corridor train-bus service), in which most buses were pulled from Union Station, instead diverted to three stations on the Lakeshore Line. Though at the time, I explained that the change made sense given severe traffic delays on the Gardiner Expressway and around the new GO Bus Terminal, it would mean a longer trip, and an unpopular transfer.

I underestimated the aggravation and anger transit riders had when the new schedules were put into service. The loss of direct GO bus service between Milton and Mississauga along Derry Road is also a new gap that should be re-filled.

I suggest three changes, though I acknowledge that the continued shortage of train crews and budget issues might make these more difficult:

  • Restore 15-minute rail service on the Lakeshore West corridor. This would at least ensure that transferring Route 21 customers aren’t stranded up to 30 minutes at Oakville, Clarkson, and Port Credit stations. Since GO Transit’s ridership has recovered faster off-peak versus peak periods, the extra capacity will be helpful.
  • Restore all-day, regular bus service on Derry Road between Milton and Meadowvale, perhaps extending to Bramalea Station and/or Highway 407 terminal. This would provide new connections, including the new weekend Kitchener Line trains.
  • Extend more buses between Square One and Kipling Terminal. Though the new Kipling Station bus terminal was a Metrolinx project, only Route 29 (Guelph-Square One-Kipling) uses it. It could then be an alternative to transferring to Union Station for some passengers.

One reply on “GO’s gaping gap, gone”

Thank You! A very valuable precursor to my getting to try this in the next few weeks.

There’s a number of very valuable points I’ll comment on later, but this is worthy of merit and further discussion:

[Extend more buses between Square One and Kipling Terminal. Though the new Kipling Station bus terminal was a Metrolinx project, only Route 29 (Guelph-Square One-Kipling) uses it. It could then be an alternative to transferring to Union Station for some passengers.]

I haven’t rode the route this year yet, but have been astounded at the absolutely paltry number of riders on that leg when I’ve been taking the #29 out to Guelph last year, sometimes to mesh with the GOST route to Owen Sound (something I’ve only just barely scratched for back road/trail trips at really affordable prices. $5 from Guelph to Elora or Fergus)

Destination Ontario should be promoting these possibilities, and acting in consort with the various players concerned to tie possibilities of adventure and health among the disparate agencies.

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