Since January 2016, the Inter-municipal Transit Working Group of Mayors, CAOs and transit managers from St. Catharines, Welland and Niagara Falls with support from the Regional Chair and CAO, have been working together to develop options for integrated transit services for Niagara.
The group has been working with Dillon Consulting to develop options for an integrated transit system that works for all of Niagara. Focused on the transit user, the working group has been working cooperatively to make improvements to the existing Niagara Region Transit services during the pilot project period - to make the existing transit services the best they can be.
A service delivery and governance strategy for the future of public transit in Niagara is being presented to local municipal councils for consideration this January and February. The Niagara Transit Service Delivery and Governance Strategy report commissioned by the working group provides strategic recommendations for the improvement of transit service throughout Niagara.
In October 2016 Dillon Consulting provided an update to Niagara's municipalities and sought feedback from municipal councils and the St. Catharines Transit Commission. In November the team consulted with the community at public meetings and through an online survey. The feedback from councils and the community helped shape the consultant's final recommendations.
The final report presents a governance strategy that recommends a consolidated transit model. This would see St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland Transit systems combine their services into one large consolidated transit system to serve the entire Niagara region.
The consolidated transit model would allow local municipalities to maintain control over transit system planning and allows the Region to be involved in the funding and decision making of inter-municipal connections.
The recommendation for consolidation calls for the creation of a new governing body such as a municipal service board or commission made up of representatives from St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Welland and Niagara Region with advisory representation from Niagara's municipalities involved with connecting transit services.
The report recommends improvements to inter-municipal transit services in Niagara by:
At a Special Council meeting held on March 23, 2017 Niagara Region Council signalled strong support for the future of inter-municipal transit in Niagara by endorsing in principle the creation of a consolidated transit system along with the municipalities of Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Welland.
This followed unanimous approvals from St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland city councils to also approve in principle the consolidation of their transit services into one entity with Niagara Region.
To move towards a consolidated model, staff from each of the four municipalities was directed to work together to develop a Memorandum of Understanding outlining a governance framework and how key issues will be addressed by all parties as part of the next steps in the process. This process has now begun and is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.
On March 23, Niagara Regional Council also began the process to officially become a transit provider in Niagara. This process began at the request of the Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and Welland. To do this the Region must have the power to establish, operate and maintain a permanent inter-municipal transit service uploaded from Niagara's local municipalities.
In order for this bylaw to come into effect, it must be approved and adopted by the majority of Niagara Region's municipalities representing the majority of Niagara's population. Right now the Region operates Niagara Region Transit as a pilot service; this "triple majority" process would be needed to make an inter-municipal transit service like this permanent.
A strong, efficient and effective public transit system is critical for Niagara's future economic growth and prosperity. Inter-municipal transit enables residents to access education, employment, recreation and social services - key elements in a strong, vibrant economy. Local and inter-municipal connections will also support daily GO train service coming to Niagara.