City council keeps spinning its wheels
PACKET & TIMES FILES Local politicians rode Orillia Transit buses in the winter to get a first-hand experience.
Several times during the course of this council’s mandate, we have applauded its commitment to fixing the city’s troubled transit system.
Change has not come quickly enough for many, but the city, to its credit, has been working to remedy the situation. This year, with money from the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, the city purchased two new buses. That’s on top of the $1.4 million approved in the transit budget last year for three new buses, which are already in use.
More recently, it opted not to renew its contract with First Canada ULC and decided instead to hire TOK Transit to take the reins. TOK has vowed to improve customer service, keep a closer eye on maintenance issues and, as stipulated in the new contract, cannot use school buses if one of the city’s fleet is sidelined.
While those decisions and the related investment are warranted and welcome, regular riders will tell you the biggest issue revolves around late buses, unreliable schedules and, most critically, the route that services west Orillia – including Lakehead University and Georgian College.
That problem was crystal clear to city councillors Rob Kloostra and Sarah Valiquette-Thompson, who, last winter, accepted a challenge from citizens and rode the buses to get a sense of the issues users face. Accompanied by Coun. Mason Ainsworth, a long-time advocate of improved transit, the councillors conceded there were problems. “We’ve definitely identified that the riders in west Orillia are extremely irritable, frustrated (and) upset,” said Valiquette-Thompson. “We really should be focusing more efforts out in west Orillia.”
So, it seemed a foregone conclusion council would vote to add the much-needed sixth route during its budget deliberations last week. But after almost two hours of debate, Mayor Steve Clarke changed his mind and cast the deciding vote as council opted to delay the new route until 2018. “We need it, but we just don’t have the dollars identified in the (2017) budget,” said Clarke.
It was a disappointing, short-sighted decision that has infuriated transit users. The hope was the new route would be added in September, in time to benefit post-secondary students and the boost in ridership expected now that Costco has opened its doors.
Everybody wants council to exercise prudence and restraint with our tax dollars. But when local students can’t get to their classes on time and when employees can’t arrive to their workplaces in time to start their shifts, when the transit system lets them down, that should not be acceptable.
The irony is at the beginning of the budget deliberations, the city’s chief financial officer, Bob Ripley, presented a much rosier fiscal forecast than expected. He said there is no longer a need for the city to take out a $30-million loan to help pay for major capital projects like the recreation centre. “In one reserve alone, we saw a $7-million increase over what we expected to see,” he said.
Despite that, there is no appetite on council to invest about $140,000 in an additional transit route that would dramatically improve many of its citizens’ fortunes? That is hard to swallow.
— The Packet & Times