Hold That Bus, And That Thought

By John Swartz

Last Thursday’s surprise visit to Orillia by Ontario premier Doug Ford, to announce $5.4 million of funding for Orillia Transit may have some cheering, but it might be best to pause for a second until others get on board.

The grant is the provincial share of a federal government program and typically those kinds of things also require local investment too.

“The numbers are confusing because it hasn’t been finalized yet. There’s a few steps here. It started a few years ago with the previous provincial government in partnership with the federal government , the Investing In Canada Plan.” Said Jeff Hunter, City of Orillia manager of construction and transit.

In this case the feds are providing 40%, the province 33% and the City must come up with 27% for the items included in the grant, which are a transit terminal, 7 buses, 30 shelters, bike racks a video cameras and a fare payment system. The one who really gets to pull the trigger is the federal government and they have made no announcement. Of course, then the City has to budget for the expenses, but it will be hard to turn down other people’s money – so to speak..

“All these are things we intended on doing. What the grant is going to do is it’s going to make it a lot easier for us to go forward because now all of a sudden instead of paying 100% we’re paying 27%. It’s going to be a lot less impact on you and I as Orillia taxpayers,” said Hunter.

It’s a ten year program, so the money, when it all gets approved, won’t just be spent in this year or next.

““I now we’ve been approved for $17 million over ten years, this kind of the first intake,” said mayor Steve Clarke. So the provincial money accounts for their share of that amount. The City’s share would be approximately $4.5 million.

Councillor Dave Campbell

Councillor Dave Campbell was at James Street municipal operations center facility for the announcement too.

“Any money an upper level of government wants to give to make our community better, I welcome it with open arms,” said Campbell.

The high use of Orillia Transit is a factor in how much the City will receive.

“The funding numbers are based on ridership. We had pretty ridership numbers, so we had pretty healthy funding,” said Hunter. The bus replacement portion was arrived at through the City’s new 10 year capital forecast, which in this case, allowed for how many and when those buses of the City’s 13 vehicle fleet will have to be replaced, and the $17 million total is not the final word.

“Right now, we got 5 new buses. We’ve got a couple that are at the tail end, in two years we need a new one and the year after that we need two new ones,” said Hunter. “We have a pretty good idea when we have to replace buses, what we have to do, but things change over such a lengthy time you could say, hey also, we need this feature, we need these vehicles; there’s always opportunities to apply for new projects. Over the ten years there will be multiple intakes.”

Transit Terminal

Regarding the terminal, the amount of provincial money announced, $3.7 million, suggest we’re in line for an $11 million facility, but that is not chiseled in stone.

“I couldn’t tell you how much this new terminal costs with any accuracy right now,” said Hunter. What happened is the City plugged in an amount, which the province has agreed to, but the feds haven’t, that they hope will be enough. Hunter said it’s possible it could be lower.

“You’re better to overestimate because you can always return it back to the pot and use it for other projects. If you underestimate, then you are on the hook for the balance,” said Hunter. The amount is not known because the consulting report hasn’t been delivered yet. It is expected to be in a few weeks. It won’t be detailed either, but it will outline potential locations and design elements to be considered by council.

Bus Shelters

The next big ticket item forming part of the grant is $226,000 for 30 bus shelters. Three have been installed this year at Tudhope Park, McKinnell Square and on Fittons Road at Park Street. Those may or may not qualify for the grant.

“Depending on the funding, if they qualify and I can give them the bill, if we get the funding that’s great, if not we’ll just keep going,” said Hunter. The City has been preparing for more bus shelters.

Mayor Steve Clarke

“The shelters are terrific. As you drive around you see new sidewalk construction going on, you’ll see we’ve created cement pads for future shelters, but also allow our sidewalk plow to keep those clear in the winter,” said Clarke. The latter will be good news for many, considering it was one of the most often discussed topics at election debates. The new shelters, which will be added to the system at a rate of three per year, be accessible and will have solar powered LED lighting, and be located near corners so sidewalk plows can get to them.

“We’re going through our budget, we’re adding to get snow clearing,” for the next budget year said Hunter.

Other Hardware

The last large amount making up the total grant is $185,000 for a new fare payment system, security cameras and bike racks.

The County of Simcoe just started the LINX bus service between Orillia and Barrie and Midland and uses a smart pay service. The City will be going with the same system.

“The pay system for the buses, which we talked about at budget and decided we couldn’t do it this time and to be able to do that is fantastic. With LINX coming that way it will be a common pay system,” said Campbell. Hunter said that is the plan..

“Let’s’ just say we get the green light and we implement it, by all means we will work with LINX. We are working to have these systems coordinated,” Hunter said.

 It’s proprietary so people will still have to go wherever bus tickets are sold to get a card and make the initial deposit, but after that the cards can be topped up online. In the future, credit and debit cards will be able to be used as well.

Council had the smart pay item on their 2019 budget, but rejected the idea. It’s a safe bet it will return for the 2020 budget. So too, will bike racks, While most councillors approved of the idea, they didn’t approve the money in the 2019 budget.

The last item are video cameras. All buses will have cameras covering the front and back inside, and there will be cameras at the doors so drivers can make sure no one is half in or out before they move, and there will be cameras on the front and rear exterior. Hunter said any new buses will automatically come with the pay system, bike racks and cameras as original equipment, and the rest of the fleet will be retrofitted.

Now we wait on the federal government, which is heading into an election, to approve their end

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia, or submitted)


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