Closures forcing more kids onto buses, councillor says
By Richard Leitner, News Staff
The province is being accused of talking out of both sides of its mouth on efforts to get more kids to walk or bike to school.
Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie leveled the charge last week after a Metrolinx official urged the city and local school boards to adopt an Active and Sustainable School Transportation Charter.
The charter would commit the parties to finding ways to help students walk or bike to school, including by reducing speed limits and improving safety along the routes they take.
McHattie, who is running for mayor, said he agrees with the goal, but it’s undermined by policies that force school boards to close under-used schools and bus more students in return for funding for new schools.
“It just screams out the disconnect between the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Transportation and Metrolinx,” he said at a meeting of a joint city-school boards relations committee.
“I imagine if I was the school board I’d be saying, ‘We’re with you, but the two ministries are entirely in conflict.’”
Jennifer Lay of Metrolinx, the province’s regional transportation agency for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, said talks with seven ministries are already underway on how to provide more support to children who walk and bike to school.
She said although research shows more parents are driving their kids, pilot projects at 30 Hamilton schools in recent years have reversed that trend, with between three and 20 per cent of students shifting to walking or cycling.
Lay said adopting the active transportation charter would support Hamilton’s goal of being the best place to raise a child and follow the lead of Toronto, Ottawa, York region and Waterloo.
“To support a true transportation culture shift, leadership needs to come from the youngest members of the community and from the highest levels of decision-making, which is yourselves,” she said.
Public board chair Jessica Brennan and Catholic board chair Pat Daly both welcomed the initiative and said they will take the proposed charter back to staff.
But they said they will be hard-pressed to meet the goal of signing onto the charter within two months because their of approval processes.
“I’m very supportive and think it’s a wonderful way forward for the community as a whole,” Brennan said.