As expected, city council on Monday (Aug. 10) unanimously approved a municipal bylaw which supports the letter of instruction issued at the end of last month by Southwestern Public Health requiring the use of face coverings by individuals inside buildings where there is access to the public. The bylaw will be in effect until Jan. 15 of next year at which time the need to extend it will be evaluated But, is it little more than window dressing? City manager Wendell Graves says the intent now is to train enforcement staff to ensure they understand how the bylaw is to be applied. Read into that it is unlikely to ever be enforced. Instead, it will be servers, cashiers and front-line staff who will face the wrath of belligerent customers who stubbornly refuse to wear a mask because it is their right to do so.
At a luncheon held at the beginning of the year at St. Anne’s Centre, St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston was nothing short of blunt when it came to the city’s bus system. “It leaves way too much to be desired. Our transit system doesn’t run on Sundays and it doesn’t run past 6:30 at night.” As those in attendance lingered over coffee and dessert, Joe reminded them the city has approval from the provincial government to help institute a full seven-day service operating over longer hours. That approval was delivered on August 8 of last year in front of city hall when Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek confirmed the provincial government is committing $1.8 million for transit projects in St. Thomas. The money will be used for fleet upgrades – including the purchase of 10 new buses with an additional four vehicles for future expansion – and transit technology, including priority signalling for buses at designated intersections.
With cramped quarters and no exit doors near the rear of the buses to keep passengers distant from drivers, is it safe to ride St. Thomas Transit in these far-from-normal times? Well, it appears this week much attention is being paid to the safety of passengers and drivers. But what about the situation over the last month when the transit system was operating a regular service while others in the province had shut down or substantially reduced hours. And, larger operators with full-sized transit buses could take the front door out of service and have passengers enter and exit the vehicles through the rear door, well away from drivers. With the city’s fleet of what can only be described as glorified airport parking shuttle buses, the above is not an option.
The item on Monday’s reference committee agenda notes, “The members will discuss the council grants process.” Trouble is, this council and previous editions have not had a clearly defined method of distributing funding to community groups and organizations. In particular, the last two rounds of funds disbursement have been an embarrassing undertaking, to put it mildly. In the past, this has been a totally unstructured affair with little in the way of guidelines to follow. The overarching target – seldom adhered to – has been one-half per cent of the general tax levy or in the $250,000 range. Last year’s determination of who gets what was likened in this corner to a “Saturday morning session at the auction house.” The best takeaway was Coun. Gary Clarke’s observation, “Groups think we have a process in place.”
It was a particularly effervescent Joe Preston who took to the podium this past Wednesday for the area mayor’s luncheon at St. Anne’s Centre. Sharing the spotlight with Southwold Mayor Grant Jones and Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn, Preston was not only bubbling over with enthusiasm, but he also came in three minutes under the allotted 10-minute time slot. And, made a promise of better city transit by the end of this year, guaranteed. Preston opened with, “St. Thomas, what a great place to be the mayor.” He continued, “I have been mayor for little over a year and it’s been an extra-special time.” After thanking the city councillors, he observed, “Boy, do we employ some pretty good people . . . I’m here to tell you’re in pretty good shape. “We’re in good shape at being able to run this community in an efficient way with smart people doing it.”
Four months ago, the province green-lighted an end-of-life residential hospice for St. Thomas and Elgin. And Thursday (Jan. 16) city council got an enhanced picture of what the palliative care facility will look like and feel once inside. In her presentation to Mayor Joe Preston and councillors, Laura Sherwood, director of hospice partnerships with St. Joseph’s Health Care Society, detailed the pressing need for the Hospice of Elgin, which will serve the only county in southwestern Ontario currently without a community-based hospice. Sherwood noted each year, more than 800 people in St. Thomas and Elgin die without adequate services, “placing tremendous pressures on families, caregivers, and our local health care system.” Within the next dozen years or so, that figure is expected to increase by as much as 50 per cent.
The arrival of the email was as disturbing as it was unexpected and the tone of the opening paragraph introduced an icy chill to an otherwise warm and cheery Christmas morning. “My brother just moved to this assisted living house a few weeks ago, disgusting is all I have words for this,” announced the email from Shelley Turner. “I have written the ombudsman, spoke with the people in charge of this residence to no avail. “My brother is a recent leg amputee, they assist in what? Taking people’s money? That’s the complaints I hear from within, besides the food that is deplorable, and the bed bug situation that has been there for a year now as I was told.” Before delving deeper, I was resigned to reading another horror story about a poor soul warehoused away at Walnut Manor in St. Thomas.
Hopping on a bus bound for London may soon be a reality for St. Thomas and Elgin county residents.
The city is about to pitch a pilot project to the province seeking funding support for regional transit connectivity for residents of St. Thomas, Central Elgin, Southwold, Malahide and Aylmer.
The undertaking was a recommendation of the Transit Strategic Plan presented to city council a month ago, although the pilot project would go beyond the one-year test suggested in that report.
As outlined Monday (Dec. 16) by Mayor Joe Preston at the reference committee meeting, the three-year undertaking would see a Monday through Sunday service operating from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The bus would leave St. Thomas on the hour for each trip, although Preston stressed these times and hours of operation could be adjusted.
The city’s much-maligned transit system may very well become a greatly relied upon people mover if council endorses the recommendations of the soon-to-be-released Strategic Transit Plan. The proposed changes would involve route and schedule adjustments, the introduction of demand-responsive transit (DRT), the possibility of larger buses and electric bus technology and a pilot project to explore regional bus service. At Monday’s (Nov. 18) reference committee meeting, Brian Putre of Stantec Consulting and city engineer Justin Lawrence presented an overview of recommendations to members of city council. The plan, which is 95 per cent complete, drew favourable comments from all of council, including the stark observation from Coun. Joan Rymal that “any change is better than what we have now.”