A Pelham Transit bus stopping at Lookout Ridge Retirement Community in 2020. TOWN OF PELHAM/VOICE FILE

The first step in integrating Niagara’s transit services into a single, Region-wide system passed Nov. 25 with Regional Council voting in favour of amalgamation. The only no-vote on the matter came from Wainfleet Mayor Kevin Gibson. Pelham’s representatives, Mayor Marvin Junkin and Councillor Diana Huson, voted to support.

The vote was the first step in the triple-majority process required to implement the system. Municipal councils, including Pelham’s, will begin voting individually on the plan the week of Dec. 6. A simple majority —seven of Niagara’s 12 municipalities — is next needed to pass the plan. Finally, those municipalities must represent at least 50 percent, plus one, of Niagara’s registered voters—the third element in the triple majority. Mathematically this means that at least two of the Region’s big three cities—St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, and Welland—must vote their approval.

“Regional Council made an historic, progressive and courageous decision this afternoon which will set into motion that process that will hopefully strengthen public transit across Niagara for generations to come,” Regional Chair Jim Bradley said. “Council’s vote is the culmination of thousands of hours of negotiation, consultation and debate across the region which aims to create a singular, enhanced transit service for all residents.”

Junkin praised Regional staff for considering a smaller community like Pelham’s needs during the lengthy study process, saying the current on-demand transit service “can only be described as very successful.”

“I thank you for listening to … all the other smaller municipalities,” the Mayor added. “Once we get the whole system up and running [we can] allay municipal fears about lack of service or any other perceived injustices.”

However, Huson asked if the Region running the on-demand system that currently serves Pelham would be more cost-effective than contracting it out to a private enterprise.

“My understanding is it would increase efficiency and service but won’t necessarily cost less,” Huson said.

Transit Governance Study Director Matt Robinson agreed.

“Operational efficiencies can be achieved by bringing in-house, but I think that’s a safe assessment,” he said.

West Lincoln Mayor David Bylsma said it was still a good deal for his less-populated municipality.

“It allows us to participate in the vision of a Regional plan without actually committing copious amounts of taxpayer dollars,” Bylsma said. “I think there’s enough flexibility in here … I think this is the best of both worlds.”