Members of Kingston’s Muslim community have launched an online petition asking Kingston Transit to commit to providing the city’s only mosque with a bus stop.
“It’s been [many] years, and we need that bus stop,” said Sawsan Mohammed, an advocate appointed by the Islamic Society of Kingston (ISK) to spearhead the initiative.
“I understand that the bus stop is not going to happen immediately,” she said, in light of COVID-19’s impact transit service, “but I want they City’s commitment.”
At the time of publication, the online petition has nearly 850 signatures.
The Islamic Centre of Kingston is located at 1477 Sydenham Road, north of highway 401. Mohammed said the closest bus stop is a 2.5 km walk down a busy stretch of road that is not pedestrian-friendly.
According to Mona Rahman, Education Coordinator of the ISK, the community has been been counting on a transit extension to their building since it opened in 1996.
“My dad was president of the Islamic Society at that time,” she said. “The city was amalgamating and the thinking was: ‘Hopefully bus services will extend. We weren’t many people at that time, but the population has really grown.”
Rahman said there are between two and three thousand Muslim people living in Kingston now, with the community expanding quickly in the last five years.
“We have had a significant increase in population due to the newcomers that have come,” she said, adding that “Kingston has always been very welcoming as a safe-haven, through the generations.”
She said in the past the centre has organized a carpooling system to help people without vehicles get to the mosque, and books buses for large events and holidays. With so many people needing transportation now, she said that system no longer meets their needs.
“Students, refugees, recent immigrants want access to the mosque,” Mohammed said. “They want access to a community of people that speak the same language, practice the same religion. They want access to the religious school, Arabic lessons, prayers services and programming.”
“Frankly it’s very very upsetting that socio-economic factors are the big decision maker in whether or not you get to practice your religion.” — Sawsan Mohammed
In 2016, Rahman said she wrote a letter to “every single city councillor, as well as the mayor,” requesting action on a mosque bus stop. She said the mayor’s office directed her to Kingston Transit, who explained that it was not in the budget at that time.
Jeremy DaCosta, Director of Transit for the City of Kingston, confirmed that discussion between his office and the ISK have been on-going for a number of years. He said the mosque is identified as one of several areas the City is hoping to reach as it plans rural service updates, but the current pandemic will extend delays in implementing any changes.
“Given the current circumstances with COVID-19, our focus remains on the recovery of transit service,” he said. “While service expansions are not currently possible, we will consider this area in the future once service is restored, and appreciate that this has been brought to our attention.”
The City is currently struggling to manage the massive economic impact of Covid-19. Transit has been hit particularly hard with the city announcing this week that it foresees a massive shortfall in ridership and revenue without post-secondary students this fall.
DaCosta said that the online petition’s success is “quite encouraging to see.”
“I think that speaks to the level of engagement that the ISK has underway, and I think that’s great,” he said. “It’s that type of engagement and that level of information we want to have come back to us, to help us deliver the best solution we can into the rural areas. That’s a very positive thing and I very much welcome that.”
Mohammed said she hopes to get a commitment from the City for the bus stop to be implemented within the next year.
While she said she understands that COVID-19 is “making the situation different,” she feels that Kingston Transit has an opportunity to re-evaluate their plans.
Rahman echoed her sentiments.
“If we can, we should come up with a strategy to deal with this when things get back to normal,” she said. “I have a feeling that when things do get back to normal, people are going to want to come to the mosque.”
“This is probably not the best time to start a new route, when we’re seeing that [the city] is actually going to have to reduce the routes,” she added. “But I think when things settle down and when we plot out how things are going to run, this really should be an essential stop.”
For more information, or to read and/or sign the petition, click here.