September 25, 2018 1:10 pm

London mayoral candidates talk transportation during debate

London City Hall as seen June 14, 2017

(Matthew Trevithick/AM980)

London’s four mayoral front-runners fielded questions about bus rapid transit, cycling, and accessibility during a 980 CFPL debate focused on how people get around the city.

Former police services board chair Paul Paolatto, Ward 13 Coun. Tanya Park, businessman Paul Cheng, and former Conservative MP Ed Holder all attended. Park is the only major candidate who supports London’s $500-million contentious bus rapid transit plan, the topic of the first question asked by 980 CFPL talk show host Craig Needles.

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Paolatto said the existing plan is too costly and too disruptive, but emphasized the need for a “much bolder” and “much more encompassing” system that addresses all of the city’s transportation needs.

READ MORE: Pro-BRT candidate reacts to mayoral rival’s campaign poll

“I believe that a plan needs to be something that addresses everybody’s mobility is critical to employment, is critical to education, is critical to our social connectivity.”

Holder has similar concerns about the cost and disruption of bus rapid transit.

“A transportation investment is required,” Holder said, emphasizing a need to expand transit to the city’s industrial areas, for a more effective transit app, and for synchronized traffic lights.

Cheng has said in the past he would address the city’s congestion issues by creating bus bays, but Tuesday focused on how two railway lines cut through the city’s downtown core and hamper people’s commutes multiple times a day.

“I have one minute too, right? I’d just like people to listen,” he said, holding his phone to the microphone and playing a minute long loop of railway warning sounds.

READ MORE: Paul Cheng vows to stop BRT and cut red tape during mayoral platform announcement

“When you wait at the tracks, it is 20 minutes. This is only a minute and a half, average,” he said, speaking over the clanging noise.

“You have to deal with this, first.”

But Tanya Park said communities across Canada, and in London, have tried to negotiate with railway companies to move the railway tracks.

“Even this term of council, we’ve had this conversation with CN and CP. They don’t want to play ball. We have to figure out how we’re going to move under railroad passes, and we’ve done just that by moving the Adelaide Street project forward.”

Park also hopes to invest two per cent of the city’s transportation budget towards active transportation. She said that works out to about $3 million a year that can be used to create protected bike lanes and good parking.

“We have increased bicycle thefts,” she said. “If we can create ways to ensure that people are not only safe while they’re cycling, but that their property is safe at the end of the ride, that’s incredibly important.”

READ MORE: Paul Paolatto zeros in on waste as mayoral campaign heats up

Paolatto also said he’d allocate funding towards active transportation, noting that “a bike lane is not a bike lane unless it’s protected.” He didn’t attach a dollar figure to his promise.

Cheng said he’d be interested in having city-run bike rentals, while Holder spoke about a project he worked on while being an MP to put sharrows in London. Sharrows or “shared lane markings” indicate the prefered area for cyclists.

There was also discussion about accessible transit, with both Cheng and Holder making note of how paratransit rides need to be arranged days in advance.

“We have about 8,300 people who are signed up to use Voyageur at this time, but we need to make sure investing in that, we also have to make sure we have a willing partner in that,” said Park. She is willing to look into service agreements to improve those relationships.

Paolatto, meanwhile, wants to improve the ability of the taxi industry to serve people with accessibility issues to “maintain some level of competitiveness” with ride-hailing companies like Uber, while “at the same time, providing a much more refined service for people with accessibility challenges.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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