Investigating the Potential for Regional Public Transit for Northeastern Ontario

September 22, 2014 - The Ontario Government states that public and multi-modal transportation is a priority. There seems however to be a perceived double standard between Northern and Southern Ontario.

The Ontario Government has invested a significant amount in public transit in Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA), whereas Northern Ontario has experienced a reduction in transit services. The government cut Northlander passenger rail service which connected Toronto to Cochrane via North Bay. A press release on the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) website lists its key accomplishments in transit since 2003. However 4 of the 5 accomplishments are directly for GTHA[1].  The remaining accomplishment is shared investment between all Ontario municipalities. In Northern Ontario, the government’s transportation investment has been clearly focused on roads and highway expansion (Hwy 69 &Hwy 400, Hwy 11 near North Bay and Hwy 17 Thunder Bay to Nipigon)[2].

The Ontario Government states that public transit provides numerous benefits, such as social, environmental and economic[3]. These benefits should be for the entire province and not simply for a portion of it. The majority of the government public transit investment is in regional public transit service such as GO Transit. Northeastern Ontario has the potential for a regional public transit service of its own. First, the spatial distribution of communities in Northeast Ontario are spread out in a manner that there are numerous communities surrounding an urban centre. For example, communities such as Valley East, Chelmsford, Coniston, Naughton, Warren-Markstay are located on the periphery of Sudbury and there is similar spatial layout for North Bay and Sault Ste-Marie. Secondly, Sault-Ste Marie, Sudbury, North Bay and Temiskaming Shore are already connected by rail and by highway. As a result, there is no need to construct new large transportation infrastructure since it is already in place and for rail, with the exception of an occasional freight train, it remains largely unused.

Rail service in the North has been largely promoted for tourism or designed by the government to meet regional transportation needs[4]. However, a regional public transit service would focus instead on the connections within Northeastern Ontario, in particular, peak travel times to get people to and from work. In the Greater Sudbury area, there is ongoing debate whether to move the Canadian Pacific rail tracks out of downtown to reclaim the land and revitalize the downtown[5]. However, this infrastructure, including the station, could potentially bring a large number of people to the core. Given the success and current expansion of regional public transit in the GTHA, the necessary plans and investment should be made now in Northern Ontario while the infrastructure is still in place. The infrastructure should lay the foundation of an area instead of being built as a response to urban problems such as congestion.

[1] Government of Ontario (2014) Transit and Infrastructure Investment Driving Growth. Office of the Premier, http://news.ontario.ca/opo/en/2014/04/transit-and-infrastructure-investments-driving-growth.html.

[2]Government of Ontario (2012) Northern Highways Program 2012 – 2016. Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.

[3] Ontario Government (2014) Progress Report 2014: Transit and Infrastructure. https://www.ontario.ca/government/progress-report-2014-transit-and-infrastructure

[4] Via Rail (2014) About Via Rail. http://www.viarail.ca/en/about-via-rail

[5] Whitehouse, M (2011) Rail Yard Could Cost $468M. The Sudbury Star, http://www.thesudburystar.com/2011/10/14/rail-yard-could-cost-468m,October 14, 2011,

Authored by Julien Bonin, researcher with Northern Policy Institute

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