Has There Been Enough Progress Toward Building One Integrated Transit System Across Niagara?

“Some people tell me that they are delighted with the progress. … Others express regret that not much is different for riders since the pilot (for an inter-municipal transit system for Niagara) was first launched in 2011.” – Town of Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn

A Column from Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn

Posted June 27th, 2018 on Niagara At Large

Niagara, Ontario – I am wondering about your thoughts on the work toward a seamless and integrated transit system for the Niagara Peninsula.

You may recall that after working on an inter-municipal transit system for a few years, Staff presented a plan in 2010 for the Region to begin operating transit.

As a response, the Cities of St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland made a counter-proposal that the Region fund a system that the three services would operate. Regional Council approved this Niagara Region Transit for three years with the intent that if successful, the group could take further steps.

That’s why the first Niagara Regional Transit buses started rolling-along in September 2011 and began making connections between municipalities. The next steps discussion took some effort, and since it was growing and working, the Region extended the pilot for another year.

Then, in May 2015, Regional Council “endorsed in principal creating an inter-municipal transit system in Niagara,” extended the pilot to December 2016, and requested that the three Cities work together to provide options on how best to provide Inter-Municipal Transit.

Then Niagara Region Public Works commissioner Ken Brothers, then Niagara Region Chair Gary Burroughs, then Port Colborne regional councilor Vance Badawey, then Grimsby regional councilor Debbie Zimmerman and St. Catharines regonal councilor and thenpublic works comittee chair Tim Rigby cut a ribbon some four years ago to launch the first regional inter=municipal transit buses. File photo by Doug Draper

After Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, and Welland approved similar motions, the group began meeting in earnest in January 2016. They hired Dillon Consulting to develop a high-level plan and receive public input and the Region again extended the pilot. Since January 2017, Dillon presented their report – “Niagara Transit Service Delivery & Governance Strategy” – and each of the three City Councils approved it unanimously.

In March 2017, Regional Council approved the report’s recommendations: endorse (again) the principal of a consolidated transit system; direct staff to develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the three major transit providers by the end of 2017; form a Transit Working Group with representation from all 12 Niagara Cities and Towns.

Finally, since the Region funded the pilot for five-and-a-half years beyond its “sphere of jurisdiction” in the Ontario Municipal Act, the report recommended a “triple-majority” process to sanction the funding.

Shortly afterward, by June of last year, the majority of local Councils approved this direction, allowing the Region to legally operate conventional transit.

While work continues towards a truly integrated system, the partners have made changes like: aligning customer service polices, using the same digital mobile platform – a transit app, using the same after-hours customer service call center.

Then, in March, because of their renewed commitment to transit, the Federal and Provincial government announced nearly $22 billion over the next 10-years for transit and related projects in Ontario. Niagara’s share of that funding – $148 million over 10 years – was also announced in March. St. Catharines will receive $86 million, Niagara Falls $38 million, and Welland $13 million. The remaining funding goes to Thorold ($5.4 million), Niagara Region ($3.4 million), Fort Erie ($956K), Port Colborne ($426K) and Niagara-on-the-Lake ($270K). (Pelham received a commitment of $500K over 5 years from the Province under another program.)

The Brock University campus in St. Catharines is a major hub for transit buses for riding students across Niagara. File photo by Doug Draper

So, what happened recently? As the Region’s 29 May 2018 news release stated, “Regional Council approved a three-year extension of Niagara Regional Transit, after achieving unanimous approval of the agreement by the service operators. This action keeps the current inter-municipal system running while the Region and local area municipalities continue to work on a new integrated transit service for Niagara.”

Some people tell me that they are delighted with the progress and especially that the various transit providers are working together; they see this work as a huge victory and that only good can come from that. They recognize that transit changes take time but remain convinced that an integrated system can develop over the next three years.

Others express regret that not much is different for riders since the pilot was first launched in 2011; they lament the last four years as not moving an integrated system forward and renewing the pilot just shows the Federal and Province governments that Niagara still doesn’t have its act together. They recognize that there’s much work to do, but those that need and want transit have been waiting too long for a functional and integrated system.

How do you see it? What do you think about the recent changes? What do you think are next steps toward integrated transit in the Niagara Peninsula?

You may contact Mayor Dave at mayordave@pelham.ca and see past columns at www.pelhammayordave.blogspot.ca.

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

A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who also share their first and last names.

For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national 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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