EDITORIAL: Transit systems need to be developed
The City of Steinbach and Town of Niverville have passed on an opportunity to be part of a regional transit study, despite the growing need for transit.
Both communities are in different situations.
Niverville, is still a smaller centre, a town of about 6,000.
Steinbach however is the province’s third largest city, with about 18,000 residents.
Led by a consultant hired by the RM of Piney, the study will examine how and why people travel around the region of Manitoba east of the Red River and south of the Trans-Canada highway.
Municipalities were asked to pay $2,500 to take part, something consultant Connie Gamble said they should consider an investment that could later unlock federal funding for projects.
Needs for transit will vary widely across the region, but there’s no doubt some form of transit will need to be considered.
Niverville claimed finances were the main reason they chose not to participate. While $2,500 only represents a few dollars per citizen, decisions on extras must be made all the time, so it’s tough to fault them for their decision.
Steinbach claimed the survey’s perceived rural focus was the reason the city chose not to take part. However, they added they are taking steps, albeit small ones, to recognize that transit is a future need. They will amend Steinbach’s Official Community Plan to include a provision on public transit this year.
But one wonders if they’re missing the boat on a good opportunity, one that would potentially benefit much of their local population.
Gamble told The Carillon that they already have 30 surveys completed by Steinbach residents.
There are many people locally that don’t have a vehicle, whether they choose not to or can’t afford the ongoing costs.
The reason given publicly for the lack of transit is often related to those numbers.
With Steinbach’s population it would be a costly proposition to bring in and maintain transit.
It’s true that taxpayers would have to be willing to pay.
There are many services the city offers that don’t break-even. We understand we as taxpayers need to subsidize budgets for things like swimming pools and arenas. But even then, we also demand a certain level of cost recovery.
TVO Today reported on transit in Ontario in 2019. They found that smaller centres in the province were beginning to embrace transit.
In 2015 there were 95 transit systems in Ontario. Four years later that had grown to 109.
After attending a meeting of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, Karen Cameron, CEO of the Ontario Public Transit Association said they noticed a trend.
“The vast majority of people who came up to us and wanted to talk about transit were from small municipalities that didn’t have a transit system,” she said.
Small municipalities in Ontario for the purposes of that story, ranged from 10,000 to 100,000 in population. Obviously, that’s a wide range which represents a very different tax base and geographical spread.
But there are success stories.
Consider Tillsonburg which had a population of 16,000 when they kicked off transit.
They started with a van and launched a dial-a-ride bus service that had a flexible base route. Two years later they added a second bus and followed that up with two fixed routes with 29 stops each. Very quickly it was attracting 40 riders a day.
Part of transit’s appeal to those communities was that provincial funding was available. But they have to be prepared for ongoing costs as well.
In Ontario’s large cities fares cover on average 62 percent of the cost according to 2015 data from the Ministry of Transportation. In centres with fewer than 50,000 people, they cover, on average 35 percent.
Lincoln, with a population of 22,000 in the Niagara region, started their bus service in 2017.
Two years later they estimated their annual costs to be $263,550. Fares were set to cover just $2,000.
Not only do taxpayers need to be ready to pay for the service, they’ll also need to persist during times of low demand.
Two years after kicking off their service Lincoln was averaging just nine rides per day.
Currently public transit exists in Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson.
It’s just a matter of time before transit will come to Steinbach.
It’s a service that should be available for those who don’t want to drive or can’t drive.
What exactly it would look like and what the costs will be are all things that have yet to be figured out.
This study may not be the answer, but a study will need to be done at some point.
The goal of giving mobility to all Steinbach residents is a worthy one that must be pursued.