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:
The report also outlines the next steps to be taken to create a consolidated transit system for Niagara, including financial and legal considerations to be taken by local service bodies and municipalities.
The report will be presented to the city councils of St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland starting Jan. 16. It is expected that the city councils will refer the consultant's report to municipal staff for a detailed review and report back in February 2017 before any decisions are taken.
The Niagara Transit Service Delivery and Governance Strategy will be presented to Niagara Regional Council in spring 2017, once the local councils of St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland have had the opportunity to review and consider the direction.
If the municipalities of St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland agree to create a consolidated transit system to service Niagara, Regional Council will have to provide "triple majority" support for this service direction before steps can be taken to consolidate.
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.