St. Catharines city council voted unanimously to move forward with inter-municipal transit Wednesday night, following Welland council’s united move the night before.
The vote endorsed in principle the creation of a consolidated transit system — a partnership of St. Catharines, Welland, Niagara Falls and Niagara Region.
The issue will be discussed by Niagara Falls city council next Tuesday before going to the Region.
“It’s a significant step,” Mayor Walter Sendzik after Wednesday’s special council meeting.
“I think Welland took a strong leadership role in being the first one out of the gate. We followed through with a robust discussion tonight,” he said. “I think once Niagara Falls has its vote we’ll have a very clear path forward.”
Sendzik, chair of Niagara’s inter-municipal transit working group that includes the mayors and CAOs of the three cities, said there’s a lot of work still ahead.
But he said it was a big day for transit in Niagara because transit providers in the three urban centres are starting to come together and say “we need to do something.”
Council chambers were standing room only with individual residents and groups supporting inter-municipal transit, including Brock University and Niagara College students saying it will help them get around and Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce president Mishka Balsom bringing support from the business community.
Henley Honda owner Alex Digenis said it will make Niagara a more attractive jurisdiction and resident and transit user Angela Browne said the region needs a more robust transportation network.
Mat Siscoe, who sits on the St. Catharines Transit Commission with Coun. Dave Haywood, said after the meeting that inter-municipal transit is something a lot of people have been pushing for over the past couple of years.
“This is an honest step forward,” Siscoe said. “Now we’re going to be able to make decisions on real information around this idea. That’s something we’ve been lacking for a long time.”
Council’s vote requested that Niagara Region support a consolidated transit model and become formally involved in providing public transit through a triple majority process.
That process involves the 12 municipalities voting on the issue and the majority of councils representing the majority of the population would have to support it.
Council also supported the formation of a new transit working group with representatives from Niagara’s 12 lower-tier municipalities and the Region. The current inter-municipal working group would transition to a transit steering committee.
The goal would be to hammer out a framework, implementation plan and specify how key issues should be addressed by all the parties by the end of this year. That would include coming up with the costs of the plan and potentially different models.
Siscoe said communities that have created larger transit systems have found it positive in every economic sense.
He said the reality is when building a transit system, it’s not necessarily for the most affluent in the community but people having difficulty making ends meet.
“In this day in age, with everything going up in terms of cost, including gasoline, including insurance, owning a car is really difficult,” Siscoe said. “When you’re limited by geography in terms of what jobs you can take, there’s no opportunity for advancement. Hopefully with an expanded system and then an improved system with a greater frequency of routes, it offers people more opportunities.”
The current Niagara Regional Transit pilot project expires in May.