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Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce

Presentation to the Council Committee of the Whole on Inter-Municipal Transit

Good Evening Regional Chair, Regional Councillors, Regional staff and members of the public. My name is Kithio Mwanzia and I am the Director of Policy and Government Relations for the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, I am joined here by Graham Lowe the Chamber’s Policy Analyst.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide input on this important issue for the business community. Through the Chamber’s Infrastructure Committee we have been monitoring the on-going discussions related transit. The Infrastructure Committee comprises business people from a wide variety of industries and expertise.

As a bit of background, the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce is a member driven organization with over 1,400 members representing 35,000 employees. It is the largest business organization in Niagara, one of the largest Chambers in Ontario, and privileged to be the champion of the business community. Within the Chamber structure, members are able to establish both geographic and sectoral business councils to facilitate targeted activities that help enhance the connectivity of those businesses and foster new opportunities.

There are currently over (5) sector and geographic Business Councils within the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce – each helping to better inform our advocacy on key issues that impact the region’s social and economic future.

To begin, we would like to applaud Council for having this important discussion on how best to move Niagara forward. Transit continues to be raised as an important issue to the business community, having heard this most recently at the Niagara Economic Summit, and the Ontario Economic Summit Regional Roundtable and it features as a key economic benchmark in the recently launch Blueprint for Growth and Prosperity.

Establishing a transit framework that moves the region into the 21st Century and supports its economic growth will take both leadership and ingenuity.

As a means to fully realize the growth strategies and economic plans that have been developed by both the business community and the Region, there is need to have a transportation network in Niagara that will play a critical role in moving people from home to work, and vice versa.

Currently, Niagara has a patchwork of transit systems that includes the Region, Local Area Municipalities, Private Sector and Not-for-Profit agencies. Layered within these systems are the feeder contracts for services between local area municipalities and an (8) month universal bus pass system for post-secondary education students.

This hodgepodge approach has posed any array of challenges. Riders and urban transit experts alike have indicated that eliminating time consuming bus transfers will have a positive impact on ridership. In addition – focusing on leveraging efficiencies and increasing ridership can have a positive impact on the financial management associated with the transit system. These efficiencies can also be found by leveraging both public funds like the gas tax as well as private sector involvement.

Similarly moving to a fully-integrated system provides additional opportunities for alternative service delivery options and implementation of technological applications.

A fully-integrated transit system has several economic and social benefits, particularly as the Niagara region endeavours to be competitive in the highly-competitive regional market place. The ability to seamlessly connect employees to employers and customers to their retail destinations plays an important role in how businesses plan to invest and grow as well as their ability to attract employees. As Niagara’s economy transitions, the way in which employees access their employers has and will continue to change. Regions and Cities in North America that have some of the highest ratings when it comes to competitiveness all have invested in transit innovations that seamlessly connect employees to employers. The Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) has also identified that investments in an integrated transit system are essential to increasing productivity. Additionally, in a recent report CUTA ranked transit systems high in a list of factors that attract business to a region – this is particularly important for Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SMES).

As you know, the Chamber has presented at Regional Council and through its geographic business councils at numerous city councils, always expressing the position that an effective cross-regional transit system is important for Niagara’s future economic growth. We are pleased to see the discussions have advanced to a point where there appear to be changes on the horizon.

So with that we would like to bring forward the following recommendations:

  1. Niagara needs to move forward on a single transit system that is fully integrated. This system should be managed by a commission that is able to leverage private sector capacity, contract management, technology and alternative service delivery models. This approach has worked successfully in the Durham region where there are very similar demographic and geographic characteristics.
  2. Formally include the business community on the commission – with the expertise that the business community brings in a wide array of areas, such as capital financing, alternative service delivery contract management, compensation and human resources their formal participation will allow for their expertise to benefit the system.
  3. Determine a specific timeline for implementation – a key component in ensuring ridership is certainty. Providing a clear timeline as to when Niagara will be able to see a fully integrated system that will get people to their destinations across the region and back home efficiently will be vitally important.

Niagara, like its neighbours, is positioned to be an important economic corridor between the United States and the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton (GTHA), and as our neighbours work to bolster their transit systems and strengthen their connections with entities like Metrolinx – Niagara must consider how it will play a leadership role in this corridor and in connecting people with economic opportunities.

With smart, proactive planning for an integrated transit model, Niagara can market itself as an innovative region of the future with a fully-integrated transit system that is able to leverage technology, public funds, private sector capacity and alternative service delivery models – the region will have an important tool in its tool kit to attract and retain businesses, and to attract the talent needed to support the growth of our businesses.

Thank you for the opportunity to present this evening, we look forward to your questions and working with you to build a stronger, more vibrant Niagara.