LTC holds off on Old North bus route change — for now

The LTC board also discussed the impacts of the Ford government changes to OSAP and student fees.

LTC board also discussed impacts of Ford government changes to OSAP, student fees

Some residents of Old North didn't want to see LTC buses operating along Colborne Street between Cheapside and Oxford. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

The London Transit Commission board is holding off on making any route changes to its No. 1 bus after members of the public voiced concern Wednesday.

More than 20 community residents showed up to the first board meeting of 2019. The majority of them spoke out about proposed changes to the north-south route.

LTC officials have revised changes to the route several times and some people are still unhappy with the current proposal that suggests the No. 1 bus be rerouted from Richmond Street to Colborne Street. It would run south along Adelaide Street to Cheapside Street, then west to Colborne and eventually head south again.

That proposed route would no longer pass the Merrymount Family Support Centre or King's University College. 

However, the LTC proposed linking two existing bus routes — 27 and 29 — to reach some of those who would be excluded.

The new route for Bus No. 1 will be effective this September. (LTC)

There are still "issues around accessibility and safety," said Joe Henry, dean of students at King's, on Wednesday.

Old North resident Rosemary Cooke said the proposed route would bring more traffic to the area and detract from the "charm" of one of London's oldest and most preserved communities.

"Walk the streets if you're going to do this kind of planning and see what it really needs, and what needs to be preserved," she told the board.

Some residents also said they weren't informed of any changes and that there was a lack of communication from the LTC.

More than 20 people, the majority of them Old North residents, showed up at a London Transit Commission meeting on Jan. 30, 2019. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

"I was convinced people were still not being heard … People haven't had a chance to digest all the changes," said Phil Squire, elected vice chair of the board.

The board voted Wednesday to hold off on making any changes to the route and instead directed staff to gather more public input. Staff noted that the No. 1 bus also impacts routes 26, 29 and 32.

A public consultation meeting is scheduled for February 19. Staff will return to the board in March with recommendations.

In a 4-1 vote, the board approved other route changes that could come into effect in September.

Tuition fee changes impacting LTC

The provincial government's proposed changes to tuition fees for post-secondary students could result in significant losses for the LTC.

Two weeks ago, the Progressive Conservatives announced changes that would impact the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and introduced an opt in or out program called the Student Choice initiative. The latter would give students the power to decide where their fees would be allotted.

The board met on Wednesday for the first time in 2019. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

"The annual cost of transit passes for those post-secondary institutions with contracts in place are considered under the category of student fees," said in a letter drafted by LTC general manager Kelly Paleczny.

She submitted it to the board and told members if the program goes forward, the LTC could lose significant revenue.

Right now, there are about 53,000 students in London that provide the LTC with an annual guaranteed revenue of about $12.7 million.

"There are some students that pay for that pass that never use transit. There are others that use it a lot. If we now provide an opt out and all of those students that never use transit opt out, that means we're getting less revenue," she told CBC.

"We've built our service and our service levels around that steady stream of revenue that we could depend on knowing that every student was paying that money," she added.

The board approved the letter that suggested the Ontario Public Transit Association is in talks with provincial officials. There are currently several agencies and organizations lobbying the government to reverse some changes.