Niagara College Students Campaigning For One, Seamless, 21st Century Transit System For Everyone In Region

Sign An Online Petition At Bottom Of This Post For Better Transit Services For Niagara

A News Commentary by Doug Draper

Posted February 23rd, 2016 on Niagara At Large

“It’s “terrible.” It “sucks.” It’s “abysmally poor.”

These are just a sample of the kind of words I’ve been hearing for years and continue to hear, not only from college and university students, and graduates who need transit to get to a job in Niagara, Ontario, but from people of all ages who find Niagara’s unreliable, patch work of transit services inferior to services in other regions of the province and – that’s right – “abysmally poor.”
One of Niagara Region's few "inter-municipal" buses makes a stop in Welland. File photo by Doug Draper

One of Niagara Region’s few “inter-municipal” buses makes a stop in Welland. File photo by Doug Draper

Earlier this February, I contacted Al Caslin, a St. Catharines regional councillor who was elected chair of Niagara’s regional government by a majority of the current councillors following the last municipal elections, to ask him about the status of a campaign he is leading to bring full Go Train services to Niagara.

I also asked Caslin if the regional government and Niagara’s local municipalites were making any progress on building a more integrated or amalgated bus system in the region.

I asked him that because, as has been said time and time again by regional staff and by previous regional chairs and other councillors for at least four or five years now, Go Transit, Metrolinx and, indeed, the provincial government have made it clear they need to see Niagara doing its part to put a robust, region-wide transit system of its own in place so that people riding the Go Trains have transit services they can use to get to a job, to get to school or to get back and forth to home when they arrive here.

I also asked Caslin how things were progressing with a more integrated, regional transit service because, as I professed in my questions to him about the status of his Go campaign, there has been a history of regional councillors, including some of the area mayors, saying “no” to any amalgamation of the existing bus services, including those operated by Welland, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines.

And last but not least, I mentioned to Caslin that I have been listening and talking to student representatives at Niagara College and Brock University who are saying the current fragmented transit services make it difficult for them or anyone else to get around the region for school, for work or just to go to visit some friends or have a little fun. And the’ve been launching their own campaigns for action.

Former Niagara regional public works commissioner Ken Brothers (left), along with Niagara-on-the-Lake regional councilor and former Niagara chair Gary Burroughs, former Port Colborne regional councilor Vance Badawey (now Niagara Centre MP), former Grimbsy regional councilor and former Niagara chair Debbie Zimmerman and St. Catharines regional councilor Tim Rigby, cut ribbon in September, 2011 for launch of "pilot" inter-municipal transit system. All of them hoped then that we would be much further ahead in building a regional transit system by now. File photo by Doug Draper

Former Niagara regional public works commissioner Ken Brothers (left), along with Niagara-on-the-Lake regional councilor and former Niagara chair Gary Burroughs, former Port Colborne regional councilor Vance Badawey (now Niagara Centre MP), former Grimbsy regional councilor and former Niagara chair Debbie Zimmerman and St. Catharines regional councilor Tim Rigby, cut ribbon in September, 2011 for launch of “pilot” inter-municipal transit system. All of them hoped then that we would be much further ahead in building a regional transit system by now. File photo by Doug Draper

Caslin responded by saying I am way behind in my information because (unbenounced to me, and I would hazard to say many other Niagara residents) the regional government has had a “working group” in place since the spring of last year to pull together a plan for an amalgamated region-wide transit service in 20 months or by around the end of this year.

Caslin added that he had no idea what students I was listening or talking to because the working group includes students from both Brock and Niagara College and, in his view at least, they seem to be satisfied with the way things are progressing.

Okay, so allow me to make a couple of brief responses to Caslin’s version of reality when it comes to abysmal way too many of our municipal leaders have addressed the transit file.

Let me start by saying I’m always prepared to accept the possibility that I am behind in my information on an issue which is why I call people, as I did on this one with Caslin, and ask questions.

For instance and for whatever reason (that may very well have something to do with a failure to effectively communicate on some entities part), I hardly knew anything about this so-called “working group.”

Nor was I aware of the breaking news, , until I read in a February 9th edition of a Postmedia newspaper, that Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati has done a complete turn from the strong anti-amalgamation stance he had been taking for years and now says he would join St Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik and others and “disolve” (to use the word in the newspaper story) his city’s transit commission in favour of an amalgamated Niagara system.

Transit buses make stop at St. Catharines campus of Brock Univesity. Photo by Doug Draper

Transit buses make stop at St. Catharines campus of Brock Univesity. Photo by Doug Draper

That’s a welcome change, if true, because Diodati’s anti-amalgamation position emboldened past efforts by other regional councillors, most notably St. Catharines and Niagara Falls regional councillors Andy Petrowski and Bart Maves respectively, to pull the plug on what little pilot “inter-municipal” regional bus services that were launched some four and a half years ago.

And if it weren’t for push back from then Niagara regional chair Gary Burroughs and others, including Vance Badawey and Debbie Zimmerman, both of whom no longer sit on regional council, the efforts to put the kibosh on what little inter-municipal transit we have may very well have succeeded.

And let me add one more thing about being behind, Mr. Chair, because when it comes to being behind, few regions across southern Ontario and few more populated regions across Canada for that matter, are as far behind as Niagara is in offering its residents and visitors a reliable and affordable 21st Century transit system for moving people and growing jobs and businesses as this region of Niagara is.

It is thanks, in no small part, to the small-minded parochialism and lack of courage and vision to prusue progressive goals of far too many of our municipal politicians that Niagara is so far behind.

Twenty months to plan a proper regional transit system? Niagara has had 20 months to do that for years!

And who doesn’t want full Go Train services coming to Niagara? I certainly do, and I suspect that a majority of other residents across this region do too.

But talk to transit commissioners in other regions in and around Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe and they will tell you that if you build a good, seamless transit system connecting communities, businesses, schools and other key sectors in the region, services like Go and more provincial and federal funding for transit will come.

In the days and weeks ahead, Niagara At Large will be posting stories on regions that are a decade or more ahead of Niagara in providing transit services and are seeing the support come from senior levels of government, along with growth in business and jobs, and better planning that does not include gutting wetlands and paving over more farmland.

Ryan Krafft (left), director of student and community relations at Niagara College, and Alex Sobschak, communications director for the college's Student Administrative Council, recently ask other students to sign a petition for better regional transit. Photo by Doug Draper

Ryan Krafft (left), director of student and community relations at Niagara College, and Alex Sobschak, communications director for the college’s Student Administrative Council, recently ask other students to sign a petition for better regional transit. Photo by Doug Draper

As for the student representatives I have been listening and talking to, let me begin with Jenn Howarth, Executive Director of the Niagara College Student Administrative Council, and NAL will be featuring the views of other students in the days and weeks ahead.Howarth and the Student Administrative Council launched a campaign, called “Transit Riders of Niagara” and a petition after the New Year to push for better transit services in Niagara for students and everyone else who wants and needs them.

In a correspondence I had with her before I called Caslin, Howarth shared this statement on the campaign; “Our campaign is called Transit Riders of Niagara – we’re encouraging Regional and Municipal Councillors to engage in the conversation around transit and move towards one seamless system.”

“Transit Riders of Niagara is not about solely getting GO to the Region – that is only one piece of the puzzle,” added Howarth. “This campaign is to encourage conversation and solutions to move to one seamless transit system in Niagara.”

“The current fragmented system,” she continued, “does not allow students or any transit rider to move easily around the Niagara Region. The campaign provides transit users and supporters to share their stories about experiences with taking a bus in Niagara. More work needs to be done – we need to keep the conversation flowing.”

To learn more about the Transit Riders of Niagara” campaign, the Niagara College Student Administrative Council invites you to visit its website at ncsac.ca/getniagaramoving .

And here is the most important thing. Please sign the petition the Student Administrative Council has set up for this campaign by clicking on – https://www.change.org/p/niagara-regional-and-municipal-government-get-niagara-moving

You can also click on Petitioning Niagara Regional and Municipal Government  And share your own comment about Niagara’s transit services if you will.

For more information on the Administrative Council click onNiagara College Student Administrative Council

Finally, stay tune to more on Niagara At Large. This online site for news and commentary will have much more on the issue of transit services in Niagara in the days and weeks ahead.

NOW IT IS YOUR TURN. Niagara At Large encourages you to share your views on this post. A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who share their first and last name with them.

Visit Niagara At Large at www.niagaraatlarge.com for more news and commentary for and from the greater bi-national Niagara region

 

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