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$15 million to fuel transit

$15 million to fuel transit

$15 million to fuel transit

$15 million to fuel transit

March 31, 2017

By Allan Benner

Originally appeared in the St. Catharines Standard

Efforts to get Niagara’s integrated regional transit system rolling got a push from the federal government, Friday.

MPs Chris Bittle from St. Catharines and Vance Badawey representing Niagara Centre teamed up at the St. Catharines Transit garage Friday morning to announce more than $15 million of new federal funding to support upgraded transit services provided in eight Niagara municipalities.

“A fully integrated transit system is the future of Niagara, plain and simple,” Bittle said. “For years we’ve been describing how Niagara is uniquely positioned to be an economic power house. Our proximity to the U.S. border, access to rail, water and access to a key segment of Canada’s population make Niagara an ideal location.”

But, he said the lack of a truly integrated transit system has made expansion difficult.

“It has made enticing those in the GTA to move here a little more challenging.”

But the $15,173,568 in new funding will help towards achieving that goal, he added.

Bittle said the funding was divvied up based on ridership in the local communities, with the lion’s share — $8.7 million — going to St. Catharines.

Niagara Falls will receive $3.7 million, Welland is getting $1.5 million, $626,9112 is going to Thorold, Niagara Region is getting $344,143, Fort Erie gets $149,056, $96,500 is going to Port Colborne, and Niagara-on-the-Lake is getting $72,610.

The funding will help pay for new buses and infrastructure upgrades, to ensure local transit services will be able to mesh together when plans for an integrated transit service come to fruition, pending approval by the majority of Niagara’s municipalities.

“This is the furthest we’ve ever been when it comes to inter-municipal in Niagara,” said St. Catharines Mayor Walter Sendzik following the announcement.

But despite the new funding to help municipal transit services work towards an eventual merger, there is still a lot of work to do before an integrated service is a reality.

“We need the triple majority, still,” Sendzik said.

“Lower tier municipalities still have to vote on this direction that regional council and the three cities (St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland) have taken. There’s still a governance model that has to be developed for the the municipalities and the region to be at the table. … In a perfect world, two years from now we’ll have system that’s a truly integrated regional transit system. From Year 2 to Year 5, will be a lot of the build up, connecting municipalities into the system.”

St. Catharines Transit manager Dave Sherlock provided a list of 21 projects that will be paid for with the federal funding, including expansion of the city’s fleet of buses as well as para-transit buses, while also replacing aging vehicles, and adding new technologies such as new video camera systems, and automatic passenger counters on all 70 conventional buses in the city’s fleet.

St. Catharines transit bus shelters will be restored and upgraded as well, making them fully accessible facilities.

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati said his city will use most of its nearly $4-million share of the funding to purchase new buses.

“That’s the No. 1 thing. More rolling stock is key,” he said.

Niagara Falls will add six new buses to its fleet, including two specialized vehicles, and new fare boxes for 21 city buses.

“One of the big things is a new customer service hub,” he said.

That facility, located at the intersection of Morrison Street and Dorchester Road, will be made “a little nicer for people who are transferring and have to wait to catch the next bus.”

Welland Mayor Frank Campion said the city’s transit system will purchase nine new buses, including one that will be dedicated to inter-municipal service.

“This positions us well for when the integration comes, we will all be on the same page,” Campion said.

Welland Transit manager Alfred Stockwell said all of the city’s new buses will be accessible, but two will be specialized transit vehicles for people with disabilities.

He said additional upgrades in Welland include a new vault room, a renovated bus wash, a new hoist installed in the garage, and other projects that “pretty well maxed right up to our $1.49-million.”

Badawey said the funding is part of $180 billion the federal government has committed over the next 12 years to support initiatives including public transit.

“People want to see growth, people want to see jobs. They want inclusive communities where everyone has access to opportunities that let them reach their full potential and they want this to happen not at the expense of the environment,” Badawey said.

The investment, he added, will “help people get to work on time, get to their destinations throughout Niagara, and at the end of a long day get where they belong – back home with their families.”

The federal funding is in addition to annual provincial gas tax revenue.

St. Catharines MPP Jim Bradley said St. Catharines has received $30-million in gas tax funding since 2004, including $2.2-million in the current budget year.