I will admit to being frustrated by this piece of news.
Regional Council has a Regional Transit Service for a reason – to provide a transportation solution that has not previously existed within the Region, for those residents who for one reason or another do not have a car or drive. The point of the pilot project was to see what sort of demand there was for a service like this; identify what may turn out to be a new revenue source. This takes time – transit is truly a ‘build it and they will come’ situation, because to convince people to give up their cars and take the bus, you have to have some guarantee that the service wills till be there in 6 months.
The point of the project was NOT to take existing ridership away from the three existing municipal transit providers. The Niagara Falls, Welland and St. Catharines Transit properties have pre-existing agreements in place with Brock and Niagara College to provide the transit services that those student unions desire to pay for, and the system (at least from a St. Catharines standpoint) has worked well. St. Catharines Transit has responded to increased demand for service, most recently by buying articulated buses to accomodate the ever-growing number of students. Apparently the other properties are responding to increased demand as well – Mayor Diodati of NF indicated in the article that Niagara Falls is trying to alleviate some of the pressure as well through new capital investments.
By allowing students to ride the Regional Transit buses for free, the Region has done several things: 1) they’ve bowed to political pressure to make the buses look fuller, even though there will be zero increase in revenue and the project will cost exactly the same amount to the taxpayer as it would have if there were no students on the bus; 2) they’ve circumvented the agreement they had with the 3 municipal transit properties to negotiate changes to the agreement by acting unilaterally; and 3) they’ve created difficulties for the Transit authorities as they negotiate with students in the future.
All of this, and the pilot project now will work far less effectively. Will the Region count the students as part of their ridership numbers? And if they do, then how exactly will this pilot project accomplish its goals? I will echo Mayor McMullan – all you’re doing is shuffling the deck on existing revenue sources, when the goal was supposed to be to (potentially) uncover NEW revenue sources.
And all in the name of making the project more politically palatable. Given that making the buses look fuller is the only real goal of this move, I ask this question – why charge anything for this service? Why not let all of the other monthly pass users of the 3 municipal transit systems (who pay considerably more than the students do – between 2.5x and 4x more in fact, according to the article) ride for free as well?
This decision is a mistake. It’s unfortunate that what could have been a useful pilot project has been twisted because of short-sighted political pressure.