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:
Niagara's local area municipalities have unanimously supported a Regional bylaw that grants the Region authority to establish, operate and maintain an inter-municipal transit system.
This means Niagara Region can continue alongside St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland in creating a single, consolidated transit system for Niagara. It also means Niagara Region Transit can begin to transition from a pilot program to a more permanent service.
The bylaw not only solidifies Niagara Region's place as a transit provider in Niagara, it generated valuable feedback and discussion between all of Niagara's municipalities that will be crucial in the design of Niagara's forthcoming inter-municipal transit system.
Work will now get underway to prepare Niagara for a shared transit solution, and future transit infrastructure improvements, such as the implementation of daily GO train service.
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.