An Open Letter from NCSAC to Niagara College Transit Riders – August 2018

 

Dear Niagara College Transit Riding Students,

For years, busing in the Niagara Region has been a struggle for you.  From “which bus do I get on,” to “why do I have to wait an hour for the next bus,” we’ve heard it all.  Your NCSAC was concerned about your complaints and we had struggles of our own; overspending in the portfolio, to trying to keep students satisfied, transit was not easy!

In February 2018, your NCSAC ran a transit referendum and you spoke loud and clear.  You voted nearly 70% in favour of a 50% increase to the U-Pass fee and wanted to see change.  We listened to your feedback, worked with the Niagara Region and municipal transit partners (Welland, St Catharines and Niagara Falls) and have started to improve transit on campus for September 2018.

Your NCSAC has been working diligently with our transit partners since February to champion changes for you.

 

Where are your “additional” funds going?

(creating sustainable U-Pass revenues and increasing frequency of buses)

As a result of the passed transit referendum (increase from $93.16 to $140 for a semester U-Pass), the U-Pass portfolio is estimated to increase by a million dollars in revenue.  As you can imagine, that has helped NCSAC make some improvements to the system, but it will not solve every issue.  Over the past five years, NCSAC has been taking a financial loss on the transit portfolio, with audited losses of over one million dollars since 2015.  As a result of the financial situation, the first improvement to the U-Pass system was ensuring that we don’t operate the portfolio with six-figure losses each year.  We are happy to report that the changes we’ve made, will provide more balanced U-Pass financials at the end of the 2018-19 U-Pass year and ensure that we are not over-extending the finances of the portfolio.  This ensures the fiscal responsibility of your U-Pass dollars, while creating a sustainable U-Pass strategy for NCSAC and the students of Niagara College.

We have also worked with our transit partners to increase the frequency of busses on most the major routes, which will help immensely with the issue of overcrowding.  The routes from St Catharines and Niagara Falls to the Welland and NOTL campuses were analysed and students will see significant increases to frequency on routes that were identified as problematic.  Please understand that some routes during peak time frames will still be busy, but a major focus has been to reduce wait times and eliminating the number of students who miss their bus and have to wait an hour for the next one!

 

What changed?

(a focus on consolidating transit routes, Regional routes stopping on campus,  increased frequency of buses, 12-months of service, introduction of transit app)

NCSAC has worked extremely close with Niagara Region Transit, Welland Transit, Niagara Falls Transit and St Catharines Transit on changing the current transit system in the Niagara Region.  The Niagara Regional Government is now sanctioned to be a partner in transit throughout the Region and that has allowed for tremendous improvements to the theory of moving people throughout the Niagara; not just within each municipality (the Niagara Region has 12 municipalities).

In the past, NCSAC paid for some bus routes in full (#20, #21, #26, #27, etc).  NCSAC paid an hourly rate per bus, multiplied by the numbers of hours the bus operated annually, so that students could go “door to door.” This resulted in inflatable costs (because students were paying 100% of the cost) route redundancy (students paid for the St Catharines #27 bus, although it ran on basically the same route as the 70/75 Regional route).  We have worked with our transit partners to consolidate some of these routes in 2018-19 in order to reduce costs and redundancy.  Routes consolidated included the #21 (Niagara Falls to Welland) and #27 (St Catharines to Welland) with a focus on consolidating more in the future.

Reducing redundancy only works if the Regional routes stop on campus and that’s exactly what is taking place.  In 2016, the Regional 40/45 route was amended to include a stop at the Niagara College NOTL campus.  We have extended this thinking in 2018-19, with the 60/65 and 70/75 buses now including stops at the Niagara College Welland Campus.  This will not only reduce redundancy, but will provide students with more options of where to get on and off buses along their route to school.  NCSAC recognizes that in some cases, this makes your trip to school longer, but with increased frequency on major routes, it should save you time and transfers overall!

Increasing frequency on major routes was the ultimate goal of NCSAC from Monday to Friday.  After analysing all routes, it was evident that Niagara Falls to Welland was our largest challenge.  With the amalgamation of routes and increase in payments, the Regional route 60/65, which now stops at the NC Welland Campus, will move from 1-hour headways (one bus every hour), to 30-minute headways from 7am-11:30pm.  During peak times, we have also added additional buses to help with overcrowding.  On the 70/75 route, which now stops at the NC Welland Campus, students can expect 1-hour headways all day and additional buses during peak times to assist with overcrowding.  The number of daily trips on the Fort Erie Link increases to 10 trips per day (now connects at Niagara Square) and the Port Colborne Link, which now runs 9 trips a day (now connects at the Welland Transit hub).

With the college demographic changing from traditional September-April programs, to programs starting in Fall, Winter and Spring/Summer, it was also important to connect Regional buses to our campuses 12-months of the year.  This was accomplished and summer students will now be able to ride Regional buses 40/45 (NOTL Campus), 60/65 (Welland Campus) and 70/75 (Welland Campus) from each city, directly to a Niagara College campus throughout the summer months.

The last major change will be the introduction of an amalgamated transit app.  You can head to the App Store on your Android or Apple device and download the “Real-time Transit App – by Transit App Inc.”  This app will provide real-time information on most routes in the Niagara Region and should help students navigate the transit system.

 

The future of transit!

Your NCSAC wants you to know that we are not done working for you!  As the transit partners work towards a “consolidated transit model” in the Niagara Region, your NCSAC will be part of the conversation and constantly looking for ways to improve the system for our student riders.  Your NCSAC is working with the transit providers of the Niagara Region to ensure that your voice is heard.

Your NCSAC understands that although the changes outlined above are exciting, they will not change the entire system and will not solve all of our transit issues for each and every student.  We encourage you to voice your concerns and questions respectfully to your NCSAC and allow us to hear your concerns, make plans for future growth and work with you, the students of Niagara College, to continually improve the NCSAC U-Pass portfolio, to ensure that exams are your biggest worry of the semester, not the daily commute to school!

 

If you have any questions, concerns or comments about transit in the Niagara Region, please feel free to email transit@niagaracollege.ca or email NCSAC President, Ryan Huckla at sacpres@niagaracollege.ca.

 

All the best in your studies during the 2018-19 school year,

Your 2018-2019 Niagara College Student Administrative Council (NCSAC)