2010 St. Thomas operating budget may put brakes on transit users

Posted by Ian:

When the budget comes down later this month one casualty of the “crunch,” as Mayor Cliff Barwick portrayed the city’s financial reality this year, is the transit system, in particular the paratransit component.

A report to council at Monday’s meeting advised St. Thomas Transit is shedding riders and maintenance costs for the four newest buses in the fleet could escalate at an alarming rate once the warranties expire.

Dealing with the latter issue first, why would the city purchase these vehicles, which Dave White, supervisor of roads and transportation, admits are only used by a few other communities and there is little “historical data” on them?

They are prone to major component failures and have spent a disproportionate amount of time out of service. Which prompted Ald. Heather Jackson-Chapman to question, “What does this do to us in the future when the warranties are up.”

White conceded the city has had to lease buses, which places further strain on the transit budget.

Of greater concern, however, is the potential paring back of paratransit service. “We will be looking at a reduction in services,” cautioned Barwick.

This is prompted by a $29,000 shortfall in fare revenue last year, a gap surely to widen in 2010.

The decline in ridership and burgeoning maintenance costs is “a potential well where we’re pouring down a lot of money,” stressed Barwick on Monday.

“We have to look at routes and hours of operation,” he stressed.

One scenario is to encourage accessibility riders to shift to city transit buses, where possible, which could permit one paratransit vehicle to come out of service.

Which prompted John Dewancker, director of environmental services to caution, “We need to be very prudent on this. An hours of operation reduction could severely impact levels of ridership.”

More worrisome for paratransit users is the possibility of tinkering with eligibility guidelines for this service.

“Eligibility for paratransit is a sensitive issue,” Dewancker admitted. “But it should be looked at.”

The city’s accessibility community needs to make themselves heard through staff, our elected officials and the municipal accessibility committee.

This is one bus they can’t afford to miss.

2 thoughts on “2010 St. Thomas operating budget may put brakes on transit users

  1. Ian,

    There is a timely article this week in the Belleville Intelligencer regarding public transit.

    Belleville actively promotes ridership, reminding residents that the Government of Canada provides those who to use public transit with a tax credit on the cost of monthly transit passes. They also aggressively solicit advertising in and on the buses to increase revenues.
    Belleville’s public transit operates 7 days a week, covering 2,300 km per day and transports 3,000 passengers a day.

    Belleville and St. Thomas have about the same overall budget and revenue – in the $100M range yet Belleville spends double the amount on transportations services without any negative impact on the taxpayer or user community.


    ”Belleville’s transit system is now 100 per cent accessible after three new buses have been delivered to the municipality.
    The three NOVABUS LFS transit coaches arrived in Belleville Monday and will be integrated into the fleet March 15. The arrival of the buses means every bus on the city’s transit routes will be accessible. One bus that is not fully accessible will be kept in reserve for use only when one of the accessible buses is being serviced.
    “They’ve been purchased completely using the provincial gas tax,” he said. “The great thing is you get a 33 per cent rebate on every bus you buy through the province too. So, virtually, because we bought three we’re basically getting one for free.”
    Miller, who is the chairman of the city’s transit advisory committee, said Belleville went for too many years without replacing transit buses. He said the city did not purchase any buses from 1992 to 1998 and then again from 1999 to 2004. Since then, however, the city has slowly been replacing its aging fleet.
    “It left us with a glut of 20-year-old buses,” Miller said. “We had a little bit of catching up to do but we were able to do it without any taxpayer impact.”
    Pat McNulty, manager of transportation for the city, said the new buses are not only accessible but are also more efficient than the older vehicles.
    “It’s nice to see them arrive and it’s going to be a lot more fuel-efficient,” he said, adding the buses should save the municipality $15,000 a year in fuel costs.”

    Bill Sandison


  2. Bill: Thanks for the heads up on Belleville. Will follow up on this. Interesting the two people on council pushing hardest for transit cuts were big boosters for spending $500,000 on a new transit terminal. Left hand, meet the right hand!


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