With recent funding from upper levels of government to spend on transit, the Town is hoping to hop on board a regional, on-demand, shared ridership pilot project launched earlier this month.
The Region decided to move forward on the project by providing service to west Niagara municipalities only, but the Town plans to ask the Region to amend its agreement with a private company to include NOTL in its “turnkey” service, to replace the current fixed-route model NOTL now offers, or did before the arrival of COVID.
The NOTL Transit shuttle service, which was operating on a month-to-month contract until the end of the year, was stopped in April due to COVID, and Lord Mayor Betty Disero says this model, which allows residents of Glendale, Virgil and the Old Town to be picked up at an intersection near their home for $3, is a much better deal for locals.
It’s better for the resident who lives off the fixed route of the current service, and has to walk a distance to get the shuttle, she says. “My friend, who lives almost at Lakeshore on Garrison Village Drive, will no longer have to walk all the way to Niagara Stone Road,” says Disero. “I think it’s fabulous.”
“I think this is a great pilot project we’re going to enter into,” says Randall, thanking the Region for entering into negotiation for a great project for NOTL.
It’s not curb to curb, but it is intersection to intersection, he said.
In west Niagara, the service also allows for riders to access inter-municipal regional transit for $6, but the Town’s report did not recommend that option.
Councillors agreed to have another look in the future at extending the service to include St. Davids and Queenston, and also consider including accessing inter-municipal transit.
When Gary Zalepa presented council with this model of transit last fall, he considered it an exciting opportunity for Niagara-on-the-Lake.
The regional councillor described an on-demand shuttle service as an attractive solution for residents not living on a current transit route, and a positive reaction from councillors ended in a request to staff to work with the Region on an implementation plan to bring back to council.
The one-year pilot project got underway in west Niagara recently, including Grimsby, Lincoln, West Lincoln, Wainfleet and Pelham, but no mention of NOTL.
Interim CAO Sheldon Randall, who was part of the original discussions with regional staff, says there was no will at that time to bring the pilot project to the east side of the Region, but thanked the upper level of government for now considering the inclusion of NOTL.
With a request from the Town, the agreement could be changed and the NOTL service in effect by November, says Randall.
All municipalities have faced challenges with transit during the pandemic, with ridership dropping off and revenue collapsing, and this “is a great project,” says Zalepa. “I’m hearing good things about it. It could fill gaps in town and get people linked with regional transit, and to appointments around town. I would encourage the Town to do what it can. On-demand is the future of transportation.”
Across Ontario, the federal/provincial funding announced recently was broken down with an allocation for each municipality, with a separate amount for transit.
Based on population, NOTL is to receive a total of $562,009, with $36,009 of that for transit.
The remaining $526,000 will cover the shortfall in parking revenue, and some of the added expenses caused by the pandemic, says town treasurer Kyle Freeborn. The grant is not enough to cover all those costs, with more to come between now and the end of the year, he says, but there is a stage two of funding expected to come. He has no guarantees or details about how much or how it will be allocated. It is expected to be allocated according to need, not by population, he says.
“I’m crossing my fingers,” says Disero, about the on-demand system. “It will give people back their legs. Because of COVID, those who relied on transit have had their wings clipped. This would give them an opportunity to go out and see friends and family.”