Niagara Region Eyes Takeover Of Money-Losing Airports, Even While Placing More Affordable Bus Fares On Hold

“Ok. Let’s not take over a bus service. Let’s take over two airports.” – Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop, on Niagara, Ontario’s regional government appearing to show more interest in taking regional control of airports than in regionalizing       bus transit services  

A Commentary by Doug Draper

Posted September 7th, 2016 on Niagara At Large

Let me start by making a couple of pretty safe bets.

I bet that far more residents across this Niagara region  – especially people on lower or fixed incomes and younger people and students – would benefit more from a convenient, affordable bus transit system than they would from our regional government taking over the operation of a couple of money-losing airports in rural Pelham and Niagara-on-the-Lake.

One of Niagara's inter-municipal buses makes a stop in Welland. File photo by Doug Draper

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

I’m also willing to bet that a more affordable and convenient bus service in Niagara would do more than a fleet of airplanes to bring people together with jobs and to keep younger people who either don’t want or can’t afford a car from leaving Niagara for more transit-friendly regions of Ontario where it doesn’t take a ridiculous amount of time to travel a few kilometres between one town or city and another.

But this is Niagara, where a person might just as well talk to a tree than try convincing a majority of our municipal leaders to put together the kind of 21st century, regional transit system regions like Waterloo have had up and running for years now.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone who can still stand paying attention to anything going on at the regional government level that this past Tuesday, September 6th, we were offered the spectacle of a majority of councillors on the Region’s public works committee supporting, in principle, a plan to place the Niagara Central Dorothy Rungeling Airport in rural Pelham and the Niagara District Airport in Niagara-on-the Lake (for decades operated by local municipalities) under regional jurisdiction.

And get this!

At the very same public works committee meeting where one of the Region’s finance staffers, Glen Cowan, told the councillors that these airports have historically bled money and would not be expected to generate enough revenue to cover the costs of their operations any time soon, a majority of them turned around a decided to place a motion approved this past July, to offer a $50-a-month bus transit pass (instead of the $160-a-month pass now in play) to lower-income adults in the region on hold – at least until some group the Region’s chair Al Caslin cobbled together last year to develop a new inter-municipal transit plan finishes its work.

Since Niagara's inter-municipal bus system was launched as a starter "pilot" project five years ago, not much has evolved except for the fares. They have gone up. Niagara Region's former public works commissioner Ken Brothers,former Niagara Regional chair Gary Burroughs, former Port Colborne mayor Vance Badawey, former Grimsby regional councillor Debbie Zimmerman and St. Catharines regional councillor Tim Rigby do the ribbon cutting for inter-municipal bus launch in September, 2011.

Since Niagara’s inter-municipal bus system was launched as a starter “pilot” project five years ago, not much has evolved except for the fares. They have gone up. Niagara Region’s former public works commissioner Ken Brothers,former Niagara Regional chair Gary Burroughs, former Port Colborne mayor Vance Badawey, former Grimsby regional councillor Debbie Zimmerman and St. Catharines regional councillor Tim Rigby do the ribbon cutting for inter-municipal bus launch in September, 2011.

And why has the $50 pass been put on hold?

Hold on the word that the same committee of councillors received from Cowan about the airports losing money, while to try to swallow this for an answer. The discount bus rate for lower-income residents has been put on hold because, said a report to the committee, the three local transit managers in Niagara (in Welland, Niagara Falls and St. Catharines) say it would result in “significant financial losses.”

Put all of this Alice in Wonderland craziness together and it’s no Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop, a member of the Region’s public works committee raised the “delicious irony” of the regional government talking about a takeover of two airports after all the years of choking every time the idea of doing what other regions in Ontario have done and amalgamating the hodge-podge of local transit services we have here into one seamless, regional system.

“Ok,” quipped Redekopp, “so let’s not take over a bus service. Let’s take over two airports.”

Dare I say that some of this “irony” may be fueled by the fact that airplanes and airports are for the more affluent business people – what the neo-cons out there are want to call “job creators” – while buses, so a perception held by at least a segment of the population goes – are for lower-income people and for people who are under- or unemployed.

So why would our municipal leaders want to spend an additional $950,000 subsidizing a $50 pass for lower income people when you can go on contributing roughly $8 million a year of our tax money to a slush pond that passes for a Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority or contribute or many millions of dollars a year in cuts in development charges for building more roads and pipes in the ground to accommodate ever more low-density sprawl.

I mentioned that other regions like Waterloo have had far better transit systems than Niagara has for more than a decade or two now and in the weeks ahead, Niagara At Large will be offering you a close look at the regionally owned and operated Grand River Transit system in Waterloo to show one example of a transit service Niagara should have had up and running at least 10 years ago.

If you have paid to ride an inter-municipal bus in Niagara, check out the fares for getting on this Grand River Transit bus in Waterloo and weep. Click here to view the fares - http://www.grt.ca/en/fares/FarePrices.asp . Photo courtesy of Grand River Transit

If you have paid to ride an inter-municipal bus in Niagara, check out the fares for getting on this Grand River Transit bus in Waterloo and weep. Click here to view the fares – http://www.grt.ca/en/fares/FarePrices.asp . Photo courtesy of Grand River Transit

Just to give you a little taste of the difference, the cash fare for a one-way ticket for an adult on a Niagara “inter-municipal” bus is $6. For a regional bus in Waterloo Region, it is $3.25. The currently monthly pass for an adult using the Niagara system is $160. In Waterloo, as of July 1st of this year, it ranged between $70.00 and $82.00

Little wonder why, when people share their view of the inter-municipal transit service in Niagara, two of the most frequently used words I hear is – “It sucks.”

Look at the larger picture and wonder why Niagara continues to have one of the highest jobless rates in the province and country, and why so many talented young people say they are moving out of this region because it’s so hard to get around.

But by all means, let’s regionalize two money-losing airports.

If you want to watch the September 6th, 2016 meeting of Niagara Region’s public works committee, it’s time out of your life. So if that’s how you wish to use some of it, click herehttps://www.youtube.com/embed/HHNTVqR66tQ?rel=0&autoplay=1

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

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

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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4 responses to “Niagara Region Eyes Takeover Of Money-Losing Airports, Even While Placing More Affordable Bus Fares On Hold

  1. Doug. You nailed it, as did Redekop. This elitist cabal at the Region that cares little about regular transportation (I am only a rare bus user, I admit, but do use it when I can) and all about fancy-dancy flights to T.O. for themselves, at our taxpayer expense, (Cough Cough) …. sheesh.

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  2. Redekop is merely an ironic voice and not loud enough to rally any citizenry to the regional transportation cause these days.
    Perhaps more ironic is that in early 2000s, Fort Erie had pronouncements from David Suzuki and Maude Barlow acclaiming that humble town as visionary to leverage ‘intentional citizenry’ through its very democratic Community Health and Wellness Group – so many committees and grass roots energized to develop a new understanding of health and wellness that acknowledges regional social capital as more vital than mere job creation.
    Well, today the health services for the southern side of the region are spare indeed (kudos to Bridges and other dedicated services across that south side of the region) and today’s transportation across the entire region is only magic if you can afford your own carpet to fly. It is truly shameful how under-served the local populace is by those in leadership roles.
    As a student and barista in NOTL expressed to me last month, ‘I can hardly wait to get back to Waterloo. You can’t get around this place very easy. And people don’t seem to see that there are lots of people having a hard time in this region.’ Last bit of Irony — this observant gal is studying international development and can find research material in our own under-developed Niagara backyard.

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  3. I’d like to follow the money on this one! The Region is desperate for a transit system that serves the majority of residents. That the airports may be losing money is a sure sign they are not needed as much as transportation is needed for the vast majority of us. I for one would rather see my tax dollars go for public ground transportation that would serve the Region much better and bring us together more effectively than another tax-payer funded airport. We already have a viable airport in Hamilton that serves a wider range of air traffic and more people to boot. Niagara-on-the-Lake will welcome not having more noise above their beautiful town, too.

    Those with lower incomes need better connections from one community to the other. Where is any plane they can afford, or even use, for instance, to take them to see a newborn at St. Catherines General Hospital if they live in Fort Erie? Duhh! The plane wouldn’t cut it anyway and would clearly not serve the need. But try the trip by bus. It’s a ludicrous process and takes forever. No brainer! We have a greater need a far better ground transportation system than the Region has now. We’ve been begging for one for years.

    What is the Regional Government thinking! Or do they have plans for taking a plane somewhere? I hope not on our dimes!

    Come on folks! Let’s get the buses and trains moving far better, to more places, and more often in the Region. We don’t need another government- operated airport until that system is provided and operating in a way that truly serves the Niagara Region. We are far from having one now!. Let’s remember this next election.

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  4. It would be nice if our elected officials worked on behalf of the people who elected them rather than cater to the whims of the select few.

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