To understand Niagara transit in Pelham we have to appreciate that two separate discussions are occurring at once: the current “On Demand” system—the black vans that we see around town—and the future Regional Transit system. The current system is limited in its reach, in its number of vehicles, and in its service commitments. It’s best to think of the current system as a temporary patch, meant to get us from here into the future: to a system that will take anyone virtually anywhere they wish to go in the region (and via connections, beyond).
The future system will be an integrated one, meaning all the big buses and the small vans will be operated by one standalone agency, and the “On Demand” vans directly servicing Pelham will be subsidized by that much larger operation. There will be a much larger fleet of vans, and the service standard will be much improved. The current patch is, among other things, a learning opportunity for Regional Transit staff to learn how to make the system function better on our suburban and rural routes.
This newspaper can’t decide if the majority of Pelham Town Council understands this difference, or if it is willfully choosing to ignore it.
Each of the last four times this topic has been on a public agenda, Councillor Hildebrandt has testified, with barely restrained glee, to the difficulties he asserts he has encountered while personally testing the service. He is clearly hoping for it to fail. We would like to suggest to him, and to the rest of the Gang of Four, that not having a transit system won’t stop Pelham from growing—it will simply make it harder for our less well-off and marginalized residents to live. Such privileged favouritism is hardly a beautiful vision of the future.
This attitude is particularly distasteful considering that the Gang of Four—seemingly solely on the basis of Councillor Lisa Haun’s say-so, and certainly absent any business plan—is eagerly willing to endorse a $600,000 taxpayer-funded loan for the benefit of ten private airplane owners at the Niagara Central Dorothy Rungeling Airport. But their message to Pelham residents who can’t afford a new car every three years or maybe ever? “Let them eat cake—while hitchhiking.”
As far as political legitimacy goes, no member of the current council ran on a platform of decommissioning Pelham Transit. They aren’t fulfilling some misguided campaign pledge. Unfortunately, the most likely outcome of their anticipated “no” vote will be exactly this—the destruction of transit in our town. There is no Plan B.
As far as political legitimacy goes, no member of the current council ran on a platform of decommissioning Pelham Transit
The Regional Transit initiative has been eight years in the making. It has been tweaked several times, and some changes which were appropriately demanded by this council have been made. Indeed, the proposed model will require fewer dollars from Pelham and the Town will have a seat on the Commission.
Last Monday night, it certainly looked like the Gang of Four had pre-arranged their transit shenanigans. Councillor Hildebrandt, with support from Councillors Haun and Stewart, brought up a laundry list of complaints about the current system and tried to use those to forestall the Town honouring its financial commitment to the Region. As a result of some legal/procedural advice from staff, this disaster was averted, however the intent was clear—let’s cause a crisis and have a showdown over transit. In Pelham there is no large or organized transit constituency to object, so this underhanded strategy must have seemed a politically safe calculation.
How exactly a majority of this Town Council thinks life will be better without transit is a mystery.
Both this year and last year the Town’s contribution to transit was approximately $180,000. This is an extraordinarily small amount of money to have on-demand transportation, with the Region contributing over $900,000 and the Province also contributing. While there may be some merits to complaints regarding service, how will a population of 18,000 going it alone do better? How will Town Hall do an improved job with such a small amount to start with? Breaking news: $180,000 isn’t even enough to return to having two short buses drive around town in a loop.
Councillor John Wink has been the most vocal supporter of transit on council. More than any other he seems to understand that Pelham’s future will continue to grow older, grayer, and be less likely to drive. Having a transit system that will actually take us to a hospital, or to any of the other medical services that don’t exist in this town, will be a boon. Having a system that will provide access to Brock and Niagara College is also helpful.
Some readers may recall, prior to Covid, seeing groups of young people congregating at the MCC waiting to get on Regional Transit to go to one of these institutions. Second dwelling units or no, Pelham may not be able to provide affordable housing but it can at least contribute to a system that lets people keep living here after their driving days are done, or stay at home while they get their post-secondary education.
We urge a rethink to the basic approach and value which most of council seems to be applying to transit. This is a time for big thoughts and vision, not parochial small-mindedness. It’s a time for the Gang of Four to show at least as much love for the rest of Pelham’s residents as it does for ten private airplane owners. ◆