Greater Niagara Chamber CAO Makes Case For Improved Public Transit Across Region

A Statement from Mishka Balsom, CAO for the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce

Delivered to Niagara’s regional council this past Thursday, March 23rd, just before the council voted to move forward with more consolidated transit services for the Niagara region.

Posted March 24rth, 2017 on Niagara At Large

(A Brief Foreword Note from Niagara At Large publisher Doug Draper

While Niagara’s regional chair Al Caslin and other elected officials in the region were busy applauding themselves this March 23rd after finally voting to take another step toward the seamless, accessible and affordable transit system many people in this region have been longing and lobbying for for years, I could not help but think of so many people, living and in some cases now dead, and groups that have been pushing for transit systems like the ones that have been operating for years in other Ontario regions like Waterloo, Halton, and Peel.

I could not help but thing of the many articulate students from Brock University and Niagara College who have gone before regional councillors year after year, pressing for better transit services, and of other young people like Jennifer Sinclair and others from that great transit advocacy group ‘Meet on the Bus’.

In 2012,Jennifer Sinclair, an organizer of ‘Meet on the Bus’, an advocacy group for better transit services in Niagara, and a young friend on the bus, Wesley Prankard. who was there raising awareness about the poverty experienced by Indigenous friends of his own. File Photo by Doug Draper

Then there were the former Niagara regional councillors like Debbie Zimmerman, going back to her years more than a decade ago as Niagara regional chair, Vance Badawey, now a federal member of parliament for the Niagara Centre Riding, and former Niagara regional chair and still Niagara-on-the-Lake regional councillor Gary Burroughs.

There were former Niagara municipal staff like Joe Cousins, Ken Brothers, Corwin Cambray, Patrick Robson, and going back as far as Eric Gillespie, who was the manager of the St. Catharines transit system who went on to Waterloo, where he has helped turn the transit system there into a celebrated success story and model for any region in the province.

Then there is the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce and its CAO, Mishka Balsom, and their continuous lobbying for a transit system that serves all of Niagara. A few years ago, it made a forum on public transit and highlight of its annual Economic Summit, attended by hundreds of business and political leaders across the region.

In September, 2011, a “pilot” inter-municipal bus service is launched with a ribbon cutting feature Niagara Region’s then public works commissioner Ken Brothers, Niagara Region’s then chair Gary Burroughs, then Port Colborne Mayor Vance Badawey,then Grimsby regional councillor Debbie Zimmerman and St. Catharines regional councilor and then public works committee chair Tim Rigby. File photo by Doug Draper

These individuals and groups and others I haven’t the room to mention deserve as much credit, if not more, for whatever progress this Niagara region has made on the public transit front to date.

In that spirit, what follows, for the record, is a statement Greater Niagara Chamber CAO Mishka Balsom made to Niagara’s regional council on the need for improved inter-municipal transit for all at the council’s March 23rd special meeting on transit –

“Good Evening Chair Caslin, Council, Staff and members of the public My name is Mishka Balsom and with me is Hugo Chesshire

 The issue before you tonight is whether to endorse the principle of a consolidated transit system and to commit to working with St. Catharines, Welland and the Niagara Region towards this.

Niagara Greater Chamber of Commerce CEO Mishka Balsom

 Specifics will be worked out in that process with your directions to staff.  Failing to commit to merely the principle of a consolidated transit system, would be to go against what the business community, students, poverty reduction advocates, and the community as a whole is asking you to do. The plan suggested by Dillon is not binding one at this point. We would ask that you vote to move forward, and not to kill this plan before we even know all the details.

 Through a business lens, improved public transit has a direct positive effect on our economy.  1. If Households can save on their cost of living, it will lead to broader impact on consumer purchasing power. Simply put, higher disposable income will result in higher spending, benefiting our economy.

Moving people around more efficiently means a larger labour pool. Employees, interns and students can find jobs and positions in their fields. And business productivity benefits from more reliable, motivated and interested employees 3. Our connectivity beyond Niagara’s borders is crucial to our economy. The success of GO train, will depend upon the efficiency of the feeder services that bring people to and from the GO stations.

But it will cost money. There is not a single transit system in the world – and that includes looking at Hong Kong’s mass transit railway, with three times the population of Toronto in a city the size of Guelph and 90% of the workforce using public transit – they don’t make money. 

 We are not here to vote on a specific model neither do we have all the financials in front of us.  But we took a glance at it: In St. Catharines, each resident pays $177.05 per year on transit.

The increased 2018 operating costs of the consolidated model would increase that levy by 36 cents per year on a levy of $192.74. In Niagara Falls, it would be less than two cents. Even in Welland, which must pay more owing to needing the most work done on its fleet and upgrades, the increased cost per capita is a mere $2.84, but on existing costs of only $94.43.

 The one-time cost for the consolidated model, shared amongst the residents of the three cities, would amount to $2.65 per resident. At the GNCC, we feel this is a small price to pay for the benefits this system would bring. 

 Capital costs are projected at $9-16 million over 7 years. Some of those costs would happen regardless of consolidation and we can’t forget that we now would have a chance of accessing federal infrastructure funding.

 And it is important that we don’t look at things in isolation.

 In 2012, Niagara Community Observatory, estimated that poverty costs Niagara $1.38 billion per year, including social transfers, private costs, and social costs. 

A major part of the cost of poverty stems from lack of access to jobs and services. Investment in public transit will reduce the cost of poverty as Niagara residents are able to find work, move out of social housing, and access medical services. This means not only a reduction in social funding from taxation, but also a decrease in needed private contributions and social costs, helping to grow the local economy. 

 Surveys have repeatedly found that taxpayers are willing to subsidize public transit, and to pay more for a better system. Our own survey after our 2015 Niagara Economic Summit found that the business and community leaders who attended prioritized consolidated public transit with a single farebox as the most important political and economic issue for Niagara. 

 A year later, survey shows that Public transit was rated as one of the more important items affecting business, and nearly half of respondents said that public transit needed to receive more funding.

On behalf of Niagara’s businesses, we ask you to endorse and support this plan and to help move our community forward.”

For another story on Niagara regional council’s vote to move forward with a more consolidated transit system for the region, check out a March 24th story posted in The St. Catharines Standard by clicking on http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2017/03/23/region-moves-ahead-on-transit .

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space below the Bernie quote.

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For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater binational Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

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

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