My thoughts on the St. Catharines 2010 Draft Budget – Part 2 – Sunday transit

Improved Sunday transit should have remained in the budget.

As it stands presently, transit runs from 10am until 6pm.  The St. Catharines Transit Commission had asked for funds in their budget to be allocated towards extending this service from 8am until 8pm.

I have previously spoken about the need for greater transit access in this region – transit is an example of an ‘if you build it, they will come’ service.  In the case of increased Sunday transit, however, demand already exists for extended hours of operation.  Ever since Sunday shopping was introduced in Ontario, more and more businesses have been filling a void in the workweek, and employees have been called upon to work longer hours on Sunday.  Just in the last several years, I’ve seen a number of local businesses expand their hours – a noon opening time 4 years ago has changed (in some cases) to a 7am opening time now.  With this movement towards longer Sunday hours comes increasing pressure on the Transit Commission to provide the services users of the system require.

The users, of course, are the employees and patrons of these businesses.  As was pointed out by the St. Catharines-Thorold Chamber of Commerce in their presentation to council, companies like Sitel (who employee over 1100 people) operate 7 days a week.  Employees need a dependable and affordable way to get to work.  And as an article today in the Standard points out, the job growth we’re all hoping will begin soon in the area will not be of the high-paying variety.  The people who gain employment are not going to be getting big wages, and personal vehicles may not be an option.  They will need transit service to get to and from work, and that will likely include Sundays.  With current service levels being what they are, it’s impossible for a person working an 8-hour shift to use transit to and from work; at least one trip will be other means.  Many shift-workers have no access to any transit whatsoever on Sundays.

The other users, the patrons, present an equally important issue for the Transit Commission.  In addition to needing people to get to work, business needs people to buy what they’re making, selling or providing.  There are still people in this city that don’t drive, for a variety of different reasons.  Keeping Sunday service at its now minimal levels forces many of those people to stay home or use far more costly modes of transport.  The most likely result is the former option, as opposed to the latter, and in the long run that will slow any economic growth we might hope for.  Longer hours of transit service can very well mean more people frequenting local eateries and shops, and that can turn into more jobs.

The problem with our current council, unfortunately, is this lack of recognition of transit as a priority.  The questions that councillors asked, regarding whether regional transit was more of a priority than local, or whether GO Transit should be at the top of the queue, or whether the new East-end route should come first, all missed the mark.  Improvements in transit, both regionally and locally, with new routes in town and new access to Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe, must fall near the top of the City’s priority list if we want to attract new businesses to the area and foster economic growth and development.  Big companies are not going to want to set up shop in an area where potential employees will have hassles getting to and from work, and potential customers have difficulty getting through their doors.  The situation in St. Catharines right now, unfortunately, is exactly that.

Transit is not a frill.  In the same way that taxpayers subsidize road construction and repairs, we also need to subsidize public transit.  Rather than looking at this as an added expense, however, we need to wake up to the fact that City Council has its priorities mixed up.  It’s all well and good to worry about spectator arenas and Folk Arts buildings, but the core infrastructure of a city needs to be dealt with first and foremost, and transit is a part of that.  The sooner this council (or rather, a new one – to be elected in October) figures that out, the sooner taxpayers can feel like their money is being spent wisely.

In the next part, I’ll talk about the need for regular, scheduled, comprehensive department spending reviews, and how doing them could help find money for the projects city council is supposed to be working on.

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