Public transit between London-St. Thomas to launch April 8, 2024

It’s been nearly two decades since there has been a reliable and affordable transit option from St. Thomas to London, Ont.

“You hope you have friends to give you a ride, and taxi is very expensive so how else you going to get there?” said Chuck Vervaeke, a long-time St. Thomas transit rider.

That is about to change. During Monday’s St. Thomas City Council meeting, Mayor Joe Preston announced the regional pilot project will begin April 8, 2024.

The plan is to expand the Middlesex County Connect (MCC) service to include St. Thomas. It currently runs two lines from Dorchester and Lucan to the Fanshawe College main campus and Masonville Mall.

This bus is something Preston has been working with London on for more than a decade.

“Right now we are landlocked for people that don’t have a car,” said Preston. “This is will be a $5 bus fare each way and you now have an option to get to London. We’re trying to make this economically viable. It will be nice to get people to school or appointments, but this is really about boosting the economy and getting people to work.”

Chuck Vervaeke is a regular transit rider in St. Thomas, Ont. who is looking forward to the upcoming regional transit which will allow him to get to London for $5. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)

The new route will begin at the Flight Exec Centre in Dorchester at 6:10 a.m. and then make two stops in London’s Wilton Grove Industrial Park before heading to White Oaks Mall.

The bus will then travel to St. Thomas with stops at Valleyview Home and Michigan Boulevard (Formet Industries) before arriving at the main Transit Centre (Walmart) between 7:10 a.m. and 7:15 a.m.

There will be two round-trips in the morning and two round-trips in the afternoon.

“Taking people from St. Thomas and Dorchester and connecting them both with industrial areas and the southern terminus of our rapid transit route which we are building as we speak,” said London Mayor Josh Morgan. “White Oaks Mall is already a transportation hub and it’s a great connection because from that point you can access anywhere in the city.”

MCC is funded by the province and this pilot project is funded through March 31, 2025. They have a lot of time to gauge ridership, although their current runs are very popular.

“Ridership has steadily grown since the launch in 2020,” explained Anum Maqsood, community transportation project manager for the County of Middlesex.

transit centre st thomas march 2024 1 6806255 1710357786453The Transit Centre at 1063 Talbot St. in St. Thomas, Ont. will be one of the stops for the new regional transit bus which will go between Dorchester, London and St. Thomas. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)

Maqsood continued, “We had a 169 per cent increase in ridership in 2023 alone. We also have programs at the library where people can go for free bus passes and discounted student passes. The service itself is only $5, but we want to keep it affordable for all populations.”

With Highbury Avenue about to be under construction in St. Thomas this year, the route will use Wellington Road. However there could be options to use Sunset Drive and Highbury Avenue in the future to access the Amazon and Volkswagen plants if the pilot project goes well.

“Its current structure might work well, but there is the ability to make modifications in the future,” said Morgan. “We’ll see how it goes and then make that pitch for more permanent, stable funding from the province.”

Transit rider Phil Atkinson joked that it’s been a while since he’s had a simple way to get to the Forest City.

“I can remember as a teenager hitchhiking to London because you couldn’t take a bus,” said Atkinson, who is excited. “It’s going to be nice to get a ride to London to take advantage of services and entertainment.”

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