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County readies path for regional public transit, needs transfer of power first

Posted August 3, 2017

Simcoe County is pressing forward with its plans to establish a public transit system connecting all its municipalities and the cities of Barrie and Orillia, as well, assuming the operation/financing of existing systems including in Essa.

But first, the County requires a transfer of power because passenger transportation systems are exclusively a lower-tier responsibility.

A report to County councillors on their agenda next week sets out the process to secure the "triple majority" to upload authority from lower tiers. It includes: a majority of all votes at the County; a majority of the councils of all the lower-tier municipalities; and the total number of electors in the lower-tier municipalities that have passed resolutions under clause 2(b) form a majority of all the electors in the upper-tier municipality.

County Council is scheduled to take its vote on September 12, 2017. Each of the municipalities, including New Tecumseth, will be circulated a ready-worded motion with a Sept. 29 deadline to reply.

The action flows from the Transit Feasibility and Implementation Study approved in September 2016. It recommends five new inter-municipal hub-to-hub routes to roll out over five years including:
  • Midland-Barrie;
  • Collingwood-Wasaga Beach-Barrie;
  • Barrie-Orillia;
  • Alliston-Bradford; and
  • Midland-Orillia.
"These services are intended to provide regional connections between primary settlement areas in the County and to adjacent cities of Barrie and Orillia," according to the report. "In addition, a specialized transit service for persons with disabilities is part of the short term service plan.  Although not yet fully designed, this service would most likely operate within 400 metres of the conventional routes, providing a combination of door-to-service and transfers to and from the conventional routes.  The establishment of a specialized transit service at the same time as the conventional transit service is a requirement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act."

The County would pay 100 per cent of the costs of both the inter-municipal and intra-hub routes, and 33 per cent of the costs of the Barrie-Orillia route. The first year implementation is included in the 2017 County budget that includes $644,000 in net operating expenses (i.e. after gas tax revenues and user fees) and $895,000 in capital expenses, for a total of $1,539,000.

Essa Township mayor Terry Dowdall, who is also the County's deputy warden, told Free Press Online, they're on board with the uploading "as long as there is continued input on locations and such." Essa has a contract with the City of Barrie for bus service that runs regular daily routes through Angus and to Barrie, round trip.

"We as a township under County scenario would be paying now for other townships so is only fair to have whole of the County to fund Essa as well."

The Alliston to Bradford route (pictured above) would provide a connection to GO Train/Bus service (pictured above in green) in Bradford. The transit study's interim report suggested it would operate 252 days per year (Mon-Fri excluding holidays), 12 hours per day. The recommended fare is $7.

Debbie Korolnek, the County's General Manager of Engineering, Planning and Environment, told Free Press Online via email the stops have not yet been finalized.

"Essentially there will be stops between urban centres where it makes sense to do that - i.e. there is a hamlet or a destination such as Tanger Outlet Mall that riders will likely want to visit. On start-up and throughout service, we will be carefully monitoring ridership and customer feedback and making adjustments as required," according to Ms. Korolnek.

"Our member municipalities, including New Tecumseth, will continue to have the ability to address their individual lower-tier municipal transit service needs. The purpose of the County of Simcoe's Transit program is to provide a regional approach that enhances inter-connectively between our municipalities and connects residents to service and labour hubs throughout Simcoe County. This is very much a partnership with our municipalities and our objective is to alleviate costs to lower-tier municipalities that currently operate inter-municipal transit programs."

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All stories, unless otherwise noted,
by Tony Veltri