Niagara Transit Commission Stands Firm on Budget Amid Calls for Reduction
In a recent meeting, the Niagara Transit Commission (NTC) stood its ground against the Niagara Region’s budget committee, which had requested a budget trim. The commission is holding on to a proposed 7.8% increase in the special transit levy for 2024, despite suggestions from regional council members to consider fare increases, service level cuts, and other cost-saving measures.
Town Councillor Wayne Olson from Pelham, who also serves on the transit board, voiced a strong stance against fare hikes, citing equity concerns and the necessity of affordable transportation for those without alternatives. The sentiment was echoed by West Lincoln town Councillor William Reilly, who reminded the regional council of the inevitability of rising costs, urging careful deliberation on any budget cuts.
The transit commission has already enacted over $2 million in budget reductions, representing about 3.7% of its budget, in an effort to mitigate the increase to the 7.8% mark. The proposed fare increases were predicted to only slightly dent the budget by $230,000, a mere 0.4%, but with significant implications for low-income riders, who comprise the majority of non-student users.
Service cuts, particularly to the NRT OnDemand, would disproportionately affect residents, potentially leaving up to 11% of people in areas like Grimsby, West Lincoln, and Wainfleet without public transport options.
Regional Chair Jim Bradley, not a board member but present at the meeting, acknowledged the regional councillors' intent to minimize budget increases while also expressing reluctance to make drastic cuts.
The report highlighted unexpected capital and organizational expenses due to the amalgamation of local bus services, such as safety inspections, which have now stabilized, according to Carla Stout, general manager of Niagara Transit Commission. She assured that upcoming budgets would reflect a more settled operational state.
Lastly, the commission anticipates a thorough review of its advertising contracts, a significant revenue source, but not until the existing contracts conclude, potentially impacting the 2025 budget planning.
As it stands, the final decision on the budget will rest with the regional council, which is set to cast its votes next week, potentially determining the financial direction of Niagara's public transit system.