Transit Dollars for Region in New U-Pass Deal

U-passes are likely to be back on Niagara Region buses in the fall, but this time they’ll come with dollar signs.

Regional council’s public works committee has recommended letting students at Brock University and Niagara College swipe their passes on Niagara Region Transit once school resumes. They tried that for free last semester, but the new deal nets the Region $75,000.

That amounts to $50,000 for two semesters from the Brock University Student Union and $25,000 for the same from Niagara College students.

The decision still needs a thumbs-up from regional council next week.

“We think the students will get a lot of service out of them, especially with that new pick-up location,” BUSU vice-president of finance Luke Speers said.

That’s in reference to one of BUSU’s requests of the Region that it change the bus routes near Brock to drop students off at Glenridge Ave. and Norman Rd., basically in front of the school, rather than at Region headquarters on Schmon Pkwy.

Speers said it’s a safety concern. He said the intersection at Glenridge and St. David’s Rd. is busy and dangerous for students.

“It’s quite a long walk,” he added of the existing stop.

Securing students for two more terms could prove a boon for the young bus system. During last semester’s U-pass pilot, 40% of the system’s riders in March and April were students swiping the passes.

The deal comes with the system struggling to meet rider and revenue targets. The Region expected to pull in $217,333 from January to April. It earned just $87,005.

And it expected 75,000 riders but got 22,755, excluding U-pass riders.

The Region figures that having a paying agreement last semester could’ve raked in another 17,600 U-pass riders and $37,500 in revenue.

Regional transportation services director Joe Cousins said the Region’s projections put what they’re getting from students at just under $2.50 per ride.

How that stacks up to the city bus systems in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland, who run their own student services, wasn’t clear.

“I’m surprised, but maybe I shouldn’t be … that we don’t have a situation where students are paying a set per-kilometre rate regardless of which provider they’re with,” St. Catharines Coun. Andy Petrowski said.

“I’m not in a position that I want to offer students a free ride,” he said.

“Quite frankly, I’m concerned that students are getting a better deal than they’re getting with the municipalities. Or not.”

Petrowski, a frequent critic of the Region’s transit system, was the sole committee member to support Niagara Falls Coun. Selina Volpatti’s effort to send the report back to staff. Councillors went on to overwhelmingly recommend the deal.

“We need to get on and approve this thing so we can go forward. The buses continue to run,” said St. Catharines Coun. Tim Rigby, who chairs the committee.

Speers said students found the Region’s buses useful last semester.

“Students who rode it enjoyed it,” though most used city buses, he said. “The regional supplement to that made it better.”

Asked if the Region should keep running buses, he said that’s up to council.

“Any opportunity to have more transit for the students of Brock is something we’re for,” he said.

“Do I think it’s my job to tell the Region if it should be in transit? That’s not my position.”

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Source: Jeff Bolichowski, http://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/2012/06/26/transit-dollars-for-region-in-new-u-pass-deal