Windsor

City vs. County: Regional transit could be back on the table

Five years after Essex County council slammed the brakes on talk of a regional transit system, there are signs the unofficial moratorium on the topic is ending.

'The primary challenge has been the inability to engage our colleagues in the county to have a discussion '

Transit Windsor general manager Pat Delmore is optimistic that if public transit gets off the ground in LaSalle, even as a pilot project, it will be successful and spur other communities to investigate a transit service as well. (Peter Duck/CBC)

CBC Windsor's City vs. County is a series looking at the state of the relationship between the City of Windsor and the municipalities that make up Essex County.


Five years after Essex County council slammed the brakes on talk of a regional transit system, there are signs the unofficial moratorium on the topic is ending:

The chair of the Transit Windsor advisory committee, city coucillor Bill Marra, tells CBC News he will introduce a motion at the next meeting, suggesting that a new round of discussion be launched.

Marra also tells CBC News he plans to fire off some emails, suggesting it be discussed at an upcoming joint meeting of city and county councils.

"The primary challenge has been the inability to engage our colleagues in the county to have a discussion around regional public transit, even a conversation around a potential pilot project. I'm still an eternal optimist," Marra said. " I still believe that there is a great opportunity for public transit. It resonates with the broader community. We heard a lot about that during the most recent cycle of elections."

The chair of the Transit Windsor advisory committee, city coucillor Bill Marra, tells CBC News he will introduce a motion at the next meeting, suggesting that a new round of discussion about regional transit be launched. (Peter Duck/CBC)

Melanie Paul Tanovich is happy to hear the issue may be revived.

The Tecumseh music teacher spearheaded a petition, calling for a unified, county-wide public transit system in 2007.

"The response was overwhelming, and everywhere I went, people said, 'This is something we've been asking for, for years. It's a must,'" she said. "I have thought that we were far behind here in Windsor-Essex."

Issue stalled since 2011

Essex County seriously considered creating its own transit system in 2009, when it hired consultant Dennis Fletcher to conduct a two-year-long study.

Fletcher suggested three routes that would connect the county to Windsor, with the originating points in Belle River, Leamington and Amherstburg.

While there was enthusiastic response during public consultations, the proposal fell flat at county council.

"A lot of people would've signed on to petitions at the time," said Brian Gregg, the county's chief administrative officer. "But then when we dug a little bit deeper and we went into some of the different communities and did some of the surveys and some of the conversations with folks, we found that perhaps there wasn't that degree of ridership that we may have anticipated early on. 

"That did play into council's decision-making back in 2011 when they decided to essentially put it on ice. The estimate was it would average between 15-20 riders an hour. To me, that wasn't enough of a business case to spend the kind of money that we needed to spend," Gregg said.

LaSalle going it alone?

Fletcher is now back in the area, leading a study for the Town of LaSalle, which is considering its own transit system.

This time, he says, elected officials and the public have been told early on that it can be a costly endeavour.

Still, Fletcher says, a telephone survey found two-thirds of those questioned would be OK with paying higher taxes to launch a bus system.

"Part of the problem that we run into is the expectation that this type of service should or could be supported and subsidized in the early days, to help get it going, but then it should be self-sufficient, and that's never going to be the case," Fletcher warned. "When councillors start to see the numbers and understand that this is going to be an ongoing cost, some get quite nervous about it."

The second phase of the LaSalle study began this week.

Fletcher says the goal is to "hang some of the details on the proposal, so specific routings and frequencies and times of day and fares."

Transit Windsor is at the table, although its eventual role is still unknown.

Transit Windsor proceeds with caution

Transit Windsor will be temporarily suspended for at least two weeks as of end of normal hours on Sunday, March 29. (Peter Duck/CBC)

Transit Windsor  general manager Pat Delmore is optimistic that if something gets off the ground in LaSalle, even as a pilot project, it will be successful and spur other communities to investigate a transit service as well.

"Each community needs to be the one to come to the table to say this is something that we want. I think there's a strong desire," Delmore said. "I think there's sometimes that fear of the unknown. It's not as easy as just putting a bus out there and paying for it.

"You've got to provide a level of service that is frequent enough for people to say, 'It's convenient enough for me.' If you have a bus once a day, to and from one community, people are going to say, 'It's not convenient. I'm going to keep my car.'"

New reasons for optimism

While Transit Windsor is taking what Delmore calls a "slow, sure" approach, Marra sees an opportunity for bolder moves because of two developments in the past month.

He says the fact University of Windsor students voted in a referendum to adopt a universal bus pass, combined with the federal budget's pledge of $3.4 billion for transit projects over the next three years, suggest the "context of the conversation has changed slightly now."

"That might be the stimuli required to have this discussion," Marra said.

Tanovich, the public transit advocate from Tecumseh, agrees. She says more people understand how transit could benefit air quality and the economy, and how it can improve quality of life, especially for young people, seniors and people with disabilities.

 "This gets brushed under the rug, and we have a situation where other priorities are made, and it's unfortunate," she said, "because, in my opinion, this should be the first priority."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now