The needless odyssey: Taking a bus between Brantford and the Tri-Cities

A few weeks ago, one of my good friends moved from Toronto to Brantford for a better opportunity in her field. Of course, I’m sad to see someone I’m close to moving to another city, but in the grand scheme of things, Brantford isn’t that far and, for some reason, I have a strange love of exploring the mid-size cities of Southern Ontario.

Brantford has a reasonable local transit system and connections to the GTA via GO, Greyhound, and VIA Rail. That’s good for me, of course, and great for the city; as it means everyone coming from Toronto isn’t in their own car. In fact, I’m honestly surprised at how many choices I would have to get there. It’s when you want to go to other nearby cities that the picture is far less rosy.

Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge (for those of you not from Ontario) together make up the Tri-Cities; they are formerly industrial powerhouses that now host major universities/colleges, tech employers and are worthy tourist destinations for a “staycation”….at least I think so! The Tri-Cities are not all that far from Brantford, about an hours drive according to Google Maps, and, were this Europe or some parts of Asia, one would expect a reasonable amount of public transport between them.

As I’m looking to visit Brantford for a weekend soon, I thought to myself; “why not see if a day trip out to Kitchener is in the cards” turns out, no it isn’t.

To be blunt, there is absolutely no way to travel between Brantford and the Tri-Cities by any kind of public transit. Well, I should say that there is, but you’ll have to go via the GTA. To see how ridiculous this is, let’s take a look at a few schedules.

Here’s what Google Maps suggests you do to travel between downtown Brantford and Cambridge:

Brantford, ON to Cambridge, ON - Google Maps-1

That’s right, following this itinerary will have you take more than 3.5 hours in total, changing buses at the Square One terminal in Mississauga.

Of course, some of you more perceptive readers would notice that Google is using only GO transit schedules; even though other bus companies have, in other locations, uploaded their data to Google, it looks like here they haven’t. (We’ve written about the problems of private operators on Google Transit before)

Without more data available on Google, a hopeful traveler might be deluded into thinking that maybe, just maybe, there still is a transit option to get to the Tri-Cities…..I’m sorry to have to do this to you, mythical hopeful traveler but now I need to burst that bubble.

Greyhound Brant-Cam-1

The Greyhound itinerary is, if anything, even crazier: It’ll have you take the bus to London and wait for a few hours (overnight?!) in order to head back East to go to Cambridge. I played around with a few variables on the website, such as having the destination point be the central bus station in Kitchener (a much larger terminal than Cambridge, but one with local transit connections to that city) and although there were more bus trips offered, it instead directed me to go via Toronto. Is that crazier than going to London and back? Not sure, but it seems that neither GO nor Greyhound offer any service between these two, almost adjacent, cities.

Of course, there was no need for me to go through this masochistic nightmare, through making the map, Shaun and I already know that you can’t take public transit from Brantford to the nearby Tri-Cities. I went through this to see what the casual traveler might experience when searching their options…..and those options aint good.

As a last resort, I had another look at our map to see if some sort of a trip could be jury rigged with multiple operators. The best choice I could find was to take the (infrequent) Greyhound to McMaster University and change to a Coach Canada bus there for service to Cambridge. Of course, since there is no publically available map in Ontario of intercity buses, nobody would know this, unless maybe they read this blog.

Brantford-Tri Cities is hardly the only smaller city pair in Ontario to have no transit link between them. Sean Marshall mentioned the case of St. Thomas and London in a recent piece for TVO lamenting the state of intercity bus travel in Ontario. I’m sure you can all name many others.

I used to end off the post with a list of solutions but I think I’ll quote from Sean’s piece verbatim, which sums up both what happened to get us to this point and what might lead us back out of the crap bus service abyss. (All credit to Sean Marshall for this one)

“In 1991, virtually every city and town in Ontario, from Hawkesbury to Leamington to Rainy River, had access to at least one daily intercity bus route. The Ontario Highway Transport Board regulated this network, awarding bus operators monopolies for each corridor, with an understanding that larger profits from buses connecting large city pairs would help subsidize rural routes. But when bus ridership between large cities declined, the province was unwilling to step in to protect small markets, and the network fell apart. (The Ministry of Transportation no longer publishes a map of intercity rail and bus routes.)”

I think that last sentence just sums everything up: The Ministry of Transportation no longer publishes a map of intercity rail and bus routes. Maybe because they don’t want us to know how bad things have gotten?






3 thoughts on “The needless odyssey: Taking a bus between Brantford and the Tri-Cities

  1. There’s some good news here, and then there are various types of bad news.

    The good: if you time the journey properly, you can shave an hour off of the suggested “all GO via Mac & Mississauga.” The key is GO from Brantford to Mac and then Coach Canada from Mac to any one of the Tri-Cities. Looking at tomorrow’s schedule, if you left Brantford bus station at 2:46 (and everything ran to plan) you would have a 15 minute wait at McMaster, then take CC to arrive in Kitchener at 5:05. Of course, this is similar to your Greyhound route, although GO makes more Brantford Mac trips, which increases the odds of the timing actually being reasonable.

    The first bad: I just confirmed on GoogleMaps – its algorithm does not pick up on this option. It seems that Coach Canada (i.e., Megabus) has not submitted the scheduling information. Even when I search McMaster to Kitchener, with a departure time a few minutes before a direct bus, GoogleMaps routes my trip through Mississauga Square One.

    The second bad: the fact that I found a slightly better route through significant transit nerdery does not make the baseline situation much better. According to that itinerary, a station to station trip between Brantford and Kitchener would be 2:20 as compared to 53 minutes by car – already, a notably bad “transit:driving” ratio, considering the size of these cities. But that’s not the kicker: you can only get the 2:20 itinerary twice/day.

    In the near future, I find it hard to imagine that there would be much demand for a direct link between any one point in the Tri-Cities and Brantford. If there was, then a 1-hour direct bus would make sense (maybe this will be true when K-W’s ION LRT opens). In the shorter term, I think that the better answer is to better connect Brantford and the Tri-Cities to a common point in the Hamilton area. That change would improve travel options for the larger numbers of people making Hamilton-related trips, with knock-on network effects. As it stands, GO has made a big difference by connecting Brantford – but the Hamilton to Tri-Cities connection is truly unacceptable.


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