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Station Schedule Off Track: Patron

Posted Aug 9, 2011

A Kingston woman is fighting a Via Rail cost-saving plan to close the city’s train station between 5 and 7 a.m. each day.

The plan also means no wheelchair service will be available for three trains.

“My main issue is the other people,” said Hannah Kaufman, a regular commuter on the 5:30 a.m. train to Toronto.

“I won’t like waiting on the platform in minus-35-degree weather,” she said. “It’s the others I’m more worried about. It’s not safe, especially in terms
of the elements.”

In her plea to Via to change its plan, the Kingston resident and bio-ethicist at Toronto General Hospital recounted a scene from last winter.

An elderly couple from Westport had been driven to Kingston for the 5:35 train to Toronto. The temperature, with the wind chill, was -35. The couple were
able to go inside, pick up their tickets they had bought by phone, and wait in the warm station until Via staff helped them embark.

“Via Rail’s slogan, ‘A More Human Way to Travel,’ is clearly at odds with this planned closure,” wrote Kaufman.

An e-mail back from Via customer relations confirmed that the station would be closed for the 5:35 a.m. train 651.

“The services which Via offers are reviewed periodically in an attempt to match customer demand as perceived through marketing surveys and ridership studies, according to the options presented by Via resources and constraints,” wrote the company’s Michelle Cormier.

Kaufman has since written a number of local politicians, including Mayor Mark Gerretsen.

Gerretsen said he sought clarification from Via through an e-mail sent to the company by the Kingston Economic Development Corporation.

“The information they got back was they’re just closing the ticket sales part of it because on average they’re only selling two tickets. The majority of
passengers already have tickets purchased,” said the mayor.

Gerretsen said he could only send a letter of complaint to Via if he is directed to do so by city council.

“It’s nothing the city has any control over,” said Gerretsen. “Via can choose to do what they want. We have not in the city registered a complaint. It’s
always possible to do so at council.”

From what Kaufman can determine, Via is only saving the two hours of pay that its Kingston ticket agent would receive for being at the station from 5 to
7 a.m.

With the station closed, she said, passengers will have to pre-buy their tickets at the station or get them online. Not everyone, she said, has computer

Gerretsen said the matter might fall under the jurisdiction of Kingston and the Islands MP Ted Hsu. Railways are federally controlled.

A spokeswoman in Hsu’s Kingston office said yesterday they had just received an e-mail from Kaufman explaining the issue and would look into the matter to “get a change in the decision.”

City councillor Dorothy Hector said she contacted Via after getting an e-mail from Kaufman in mid-July.

She was told that the station would still be open.

“We’ll have to find out more,” said Hector when contacted yesterday by the Whig-Standard.

“It would be a concern given the Ontario Disabilities Act and its implications. It’s good that someone has brought that out. It’s a Via issue that has to
be dealt with through conversation.”

Kaufman has been making the Kingston-to-Toronto train commute for five years, first as a student and for the past three years as a Toronto hospital employee.

She spends $6,000 a year on train tickets and holds preferred customer status with Via.

At no time did she see or hear an official announcement from the company.

Via hasn’t said exactly when the changes would be put in place.

“There’s no signs. I didn’t see anything on the website,” said Kaufman. “I didn’t get any e-mails.”

She has tried to rally some of her fellow early-morning travellers who she described as “pissed off but very apathetic.”

Still, she plans to keep up the pressure for Via to reverse its decision.

“Really, the biggest issue is people who would have difficulty waiting outside and those who can’t book online,” said Kaufman.

Article ID# 3251744

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