The GO Rail system has for years depended on parking lots small and large to bring riders to its trains. Local bus services do some of the work, but the parking lots are the mainstay of GO ridership.
With the recent announcement of substantial increase in GO capacity and reach, especially on the Lake Shore corridor, the linkage between parking lot construction and GO rail service must be drastically reduced. There is an upper limit to the amount of land available for parking, and huge lots poison the land around stations — natural focal points for communities — by limiting development. I have even heard a politician complain about the opening of a GO station because of the traffic it will generate through her community enroute to the parking lot down the road.
GO has started to think about developing the land around its stations, but this is still in the context of even more parking. Garages are expensive, and GO hopes to defray this cost by including them in condo developments or office buildings. This is a very short-sighted view.
A major gap in MoveOntario is the absence of funding for local transit operations, especially lines that will feed new and expanded regional services. Many families cannot afford to have enough cars that each person can drive to the GO station as and when they need to use the service. GO’s ridership is already at a level where they cannot provide parking for everyone, and even before MoveOntario was announced demand was expected to double over the next 20 years.
Today, I learned that about one third of the riders boarding at Oakville Station come by transit. The rest drive in either to park or be dropped off. As the Lake Shore line becomes a frequent, all-day service, accessing GO by car will not be a realistic way to travel because the lot will be full early in the morning.
MoveOntario forces all of the GTTA to change the way it thinks about transit both regionally and locally, although I’m not sure Dalton McGuinty’s advisors thought that far down the road when they cooked up this scheme.
GO must break its dependence on parking if it is to grow out of its role as a peak-period commuter network, and the local systems must expand to complement the regional improvements. I am not saying we should close GO parking lots, but we have to think hard about stopping expansion plans, especially on heavy routes with present or soon-to-come all-day service.