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Councillors keen on making London, Ont. a regional transportation hub

The pitch from two council members comes amid a shifting transportation landscape in the region, fuelled in part by Greyhound's shut down in Canada and a recent pledge from Ottawa. Andrew Graham / Global News

While the finish line may not yet be in sight, London councillors have expressed an eagerness to turn the city into a regional transportation and mobility hub for southwestern Ontario.

The discussion came up on Wednesday during a meeting of the strategic priorities and policy committee (SPPC) and stems from a motion put forward by Mayor Ed Holder and Deputy Mayor Josh Morgan.

In a letter addressed to the committee, the two make reference to a recent pledge from the federal government to explore enhancing passenger rail service in the region, the province’s creation of the Southwestern Ontario Transportation Task Force (SWOTTF), and Greyhound’s decision to shut down its Canadian operations.

Read more: Feds pledge to improve passenger rail in London region, but details remain down the track

“We believe these factors have created a unique opportunity for London to embrace its role as a regional hub city,” said the letter from Holder and Morgan.

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“Exploring how various modes of transportation can best connect to London will aid in identifying strong options to attract and leverage investments from provincial and federal governments — investments that can fuel the economic and social recovery of London and all of Southwestern Ontario in the years ahead.”

The letter caps off with a motion to direct city staff to develop a “conceptual framework for a regional transportation/mobility hub in downtown London,” and to have the mayor engage with SWOTTF on the matter.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate that I go off in all directions without the support of council,” Holder said in regards to the latter part of the motion which includes a request made of himself.

“What that has the potential to mean is that we would look for provincial supports for this as well, and I’m talking financially.”

Read more: Mayor Ed Holder to chair southwestern Ontario transportation task force

While an earlier draft of the motion had not included working with London Transit, Ward 6 Coun. Phil Squire, who chairs the London Transit Commission, suggested to Holder and Morgan that they include the service.

This work would include seeing how a transportation hub could interface with existing transit routes, along with the upcoming rapid transit system.

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“I had a chance to speak to the management of London Transit. They are eager to engage and wish to engage on discussing this and anything they can bring to the table to enhance the regional transit hub,” Squire said during Wednesday’s meeting.

Ward 9 Coun. Anna Hopkins said that while she supports the motion, she doesn’t want the location of the hub to be limited to the downtown.

“I would like to not exclude other opportunities that may come about in the city that may be better than the downtown. I’m not saying that downtown isn’t the best place for it,” Hopkins said.

“I’m mindful that we are in the process of developing the Wellington Gateway rapid transit line, which is proposed to include a park-and-ride at the end of the route, and that may actually be a good fit for some of this as well in the future,” Ward 2 Coun. Shawn Lewis added, echoing the comments of Hopkins.

Read more: London Transit Commission eyeing $1.2M air quality upgrade for buses

Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer praised the plan and said it’s important for London to move quickly on the matter.

“Something of this magnitude will take some time, I think the opportunity is right before us and I think the mayor is acting in a timely way to try and make something great happen for the city,” Helmer said.

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Morgan added that two regional councillors had expressed support to him for the plan. “There is interest from the region in what we’re doing here and they see this as a great advantage for those who want to come in the city and connect with other parts of the province,” the deputy mayor said.

The motion received unanimous support from all members of SPPC, with the exception of Ward 10 Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen and Ward 11 Coun. Stephen Turner who were both absent during the vote.

This sets the motion up to receive final approval from the group of municipal politicians when they meet as city council on Aug. 10.

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