For those who rely on St. Thomas Transit, change may be a passenger in the coming year.
The transit contract with Voyageur – originally in effect Jan. 1, 2012 – expires at the end of the year and the city has the option to enter into a three-year extension.
The transit system was up for discussion at council’s Nov. 20 reference committee meeting at city hall, where the director of environmental services, Justin Lawrence, brought mayor and council up to speed on the five-route system.
In 1989 the hub and spoke system operated with traditional transit buses on a 45-minute cycle over a 14-hour day, Monday through Saturday.
Today, the same hub and spoke system operates 11.5 hours per day (except Sunday) on a 30-minute cycle utilizing buses not far removed from RV’s that struggle to remain in one piece over what appears to be a five-year life span.
Ridership is in the range of 230,000 trips per year, with six per cent of the population partaking of the service.
The fare has remained constant at $2.50 per trip with some council members calling for an increase to as high as $3.00. A likely compromise is $2.75.
Cognizant of the fact next year will see a trip to the polls for a municipal vote, Mayor Heather Jackson noted at Monday’s meeting more discussion should transpire before any fare increase.
Voyageur is proposing a 10 per cent increase in the first year of the transit contract to cover off the minimum wage increase.
With 54 percent of the transit operating cost recovered from the tax base, a fare increase is certainly inevitable to avoid a significant municipal property tax hike.
Remember the transit budget – along with police and fire – was one area ratepayers would like to see pared back, according to the online budget survey conducted by the city.
So what changes might be implemented in the coming year?
They could include the addition of a sixth route in the southeast quadrant of the city.
Keeping in mind the number of students who hop aboard a city bus, mention was made of a morning/afternoon route out and back to Dutton/Dunwich.
However, with school bus operators already providing a service, the logic of such a run remains unclear.
Providing a Sunday service has long been bandied about, as has increased hours of operation, although no one can agree on how late the service should be offered.
The route structure itself seems unwieldy and a restructure might delve into flexible routes with stops on demand through use of an app.
As touched upon last week in this corner, there is no inter-city service out of St. Thomas. Would people support some sort of routing to London, although that city surely wouldn’t provide financial backing.
Coun. Mark Tinlin was adamantly opposed to such a service, stressing “have people spend their money here.”
Tinlin would be wise to take note of the hundreds of vehicles heading north on Wellington and Highbury at 6 a.m. each workday. They are not London-bound on shopping expeditions.
At a workshop held March 23 of this year hosted by Elgin St. Thomas Public Health, Dr. Joyce Lock, the area’s medical officer of health, noted 86 per cent of those living in St. Thomas/Elgin drive to work, with the average annual cost of operating a vehicle running in the neighbourhood of $7,300.
A percentage of these commuters, no doubt, would appreciate the option of a bus service linking St. Thomas with the London Transit hub at White Oaks Mall.
Coun. Steve Wookey suggested scrapping the bus system entirely and go to on-demand transit using taxi and Uber-type operations.
After years of maintaining a far-from-practical bus operation, 2018 could be a make-or-break year for transit in St. Thomas.
MAXIMUM LIBERAL SPIN ON MINIMUM WAGE
A media release this week from the Liberal Caucus Service Bureau blares – in bold print, no less – they’ve promised to roll back a $15 minimum wage.
They, in this case, referring to Patrick Brown’s Conservatives.
Is that really the case or are the Libs playing fast and loose with the truth again?
No roll back in our plans, assured Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek, speaking from Toronto on Thursday.
“We would keep the $14 an hour, we wouldn’t pull back anything with regard to wages,” assured Yurek.
“But we would then lengthen the increase from $14 to $15 over four years. Go up 25 cents each year. Businesses can better adapt to that reality.
“Our main concern, and what we’ve heard from the businesses, is the rapid increase of the minimum wage.”
Yurek pointed to a TD Bank report that warns 90,000 jobs in the province could be at risk as a result of the sharp rise in the minimum wage.
“Locally I met with businesses in Port Burwell,” noted Yurek, “and they will be cutting back their summer hirings because they just can’t afford to bring on those students and youths that usually make up those jobs.”
But what about the tax breaks promised by the Wynne Liberals to help businesses cope with the new reality?
“What we’re hearing from businesses, it’s not big enough to make up for the rapid increase in costs they are going to face,” suggested Yurek.
The Liberal media release goes on to warn the Conservatives have said “no to equal pay for part-time and full-time workers, no to expanded personal emergency leave, and no to at least three weeks of vacation after five years of service.”
Is the business sector really balking at those changes?
“No, what we heard at committee is people aren’t really concerned about that,” said Yurek. “A lot of businesses out there really treat their employees well and have already attained the vacation time and equal pay for equal work.”
What really needs to be addressed is the proliferation of temporary help agencies, advised Yurek. And St. Thomas is no stranger to that revolving door.
“I still think more work has to be done on temp agencies. I think they still have too much leeway with regard to employment into our larger factories. If we can provide a stable economic environment so that companies will want to stay and invest, I think they would be more willing to invest in their own employees and decrease that revolving door they have going on.
“Temp agencies should only be for temporary work and not a means to rotate your staff every year.”
Prior to his election to council in 2014, Gary Clarke addressed that very situation at an all-candidates meeting sponsored by the YWCA and Bridges out of Poverty.
He noted individuals receiving work through some of these agencies are losing up to $4 an hour on their wages.
“There have to be rules and regulations around temp agencies. They’re taking money from people. To me, it’s a rip-off.”
Which brings us to the concept of a living wage and not a minimum wage.
That figure for St. Thomas is pegged at $16.47 per hour, almost a dollar more than London at $15.53.
Why the substantial difference?
Lindsay Rice, director of community programming at the YWCA, attributed it to St. Thomas-Elgin’s limited rental market and lack of robust public transit.
Keep that in mind during future transit discussions.
Yurek is cautious about the impact a living wage will have on the local economy.
“I think you are going to have to watch what other jurisdictions are doing and try to keep in step with them and not get too far ahead of them. Otherwise, we lose our competitive edge.
“But government has a role to play to try to not force too many fees and taxes on people which also eat away at their disposable income like driver licence renewals, hunting fees, energy costs. If we can keep those in line, that helps people out just the same as raising the minimum wage up over $15 dollars.”
Yurek continued, “High energy rates, regulations that are costing business lots of money, the minimum wage increase, roll them all together and you have a disincentive to invest in Ontario and particularly in Southwestern Ontario.
“We need to change that, make it business-friendly but, at the same time, make sure people are getting a decent wage.”
So, about that media release from the Liberal caucus?
“That’s Liberal spin,” chuckled Yurek. “The time of year when they spin everything. They’re calling it a roll-back when, in fact, it’s just a play on words. We are just delaying the expansion of it.”
The Sutherland Saga played out for 10 long years, in the process holding the city and its residents hostage.
How strange then, in a matter of a few short days, the four-storey structure has been levelled.
The demolition process offered great entertainment value each day and Greg Decock has compiled a compelling eight-minute video documenting the action.
You can watch the video here.
The decision to rename the Timken Centre in honour of Joe Thornton will prove popular, especially as his NHL playing career begins to wind down.
What we find odd, is the need for council to make this decision behind closed doors.
A call to city manager Wendell Graves solicited the response, “It was in a closed session because it was about an identifiable individual.”
O.K., but we’re honouring this hometown hockey hero not purchasing land from him. The fact council was in-camera for this bit of business seems a flagrant abuse of procedures under the Ontario Municipal Act, undertaken for some other purpose such as keeping the news away from the media until the time was right.
Political convenience rather than political necessity.
In any event, Timken Canada paid $350,000 for the naming rights, with the city initially seeking $500,000. Some confusion, however, as to how long a deal this was.
“We did a search of the records and we couldn’t find anything that had any time limits on it whatsoever,” explained Graves. “We were actually in contact with Timken in Canton, Ohio last week and got their approval to move forward.”
While the Timken plant no longer stands, Graves agreed it is important to continue to recognize their place in the city’s history.
“It’s on council’s mind,” assured Graves. “An example is the Canron Parkette across the street from where Canron once sat. I think council will be looking at various ways they can do something to recognize that presence.”
As to the cost of re-branding the twin-pad facility, Graves suggested, “I think it will be relatively minimal. But that’s something we’ll take a look at for some time next June or July.”
That is time frame for the proposed official ceremony, to feature Joe and his family, including parents Mary and Wayne.
In an interview with The Mercury News in San Jose, California, Thornton said, ““What an honor, it really is. I never expected it. I never even thought about it. I’m proud of where I’m from and I couldn’t be happier.”
How fitting that Thornton’s grandfather, Murray Pell, was employed at the St. Thomas landmark, which was shuttered in 2013.
“My grandfather actually worked at the Timken plant with his World War II buddies for over 40 years,” reminded Thornton.
It would be fun to include in the official ceremony a charity hockey game including some of the alumni from the St. Thomas Stars and other area teams.
Effective today (Nov. 25) the Community Recycling Centre shifts to winter hours.
The South Edgeware Road facility will be open Wednesdays from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Household hazardous waste is only accepted Saturdays.
Luke Yost has written a nice profile and tribute to St. Thomas native Brittany Howard, who is being credited with raising the profile of women’s hockey at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, Pa. This is her last campaign for the Colonials – seen in the photo at left wearing #3 – and she is the all-time top scorer in RMU women’s hockey history with 146 career points. A total that will climb even higher this season.
You can read the piece here.
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