Youth Movement Could Help Shake Up Public Transit in Niagara

Mat Siscoe has never been shy about saying he would gladly steal a good idea to further the community.

It was in 2010 when he was first elected to St. Catharines City Council. More than a decade later, Siscoe is promoting for the entire region with the help of Niagara’s new transit system and the City of Kingston.

The City of Limestone wanted to encourage teens to use public transit as an active and sustainable mode of transportation to get to school, work and recreational activities, but found that giving local school boards free passes -passing free buses for students did little to increase ridership.

Rather than give up, Kingston redoubled its efforts and worked with school boards on a bus orientation program.

At the start of the school year, a bus arrives on campus for a brief orientation that familiarizes Grade 9 students with what they need to know to use the transit system. The tour also includes a quick lesson on the environmental benefits of public transit and the savings compared to owning and using a car. It also highlights the freedom they would have by receiving their bus passes at the same time.

This effort increased the number of bus trips 20-fold, from 30,000 the first year to 600,000 four years later, representing about 10% of Kingston’s ridership. It also won a sustainable community award from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in the area of ​​transportation.

“There are so many positives to the program, and the cost is almost non-existent,” Siscoe said. “The reality is that we just don’t have a lot of school-aged kids getting on the bus right now, so we wouldn’t lose revenue because the buses are running anyway.”

Siscoe previously served as co-chair of the Linking Niagara Transit Committee, which helped pave the way for transit amalgamation with a listening tour that visited all 12 municipalities.

“If we can get more people on the bus, it will lead to increased revenue,” Siscoe said. “Then we can look at subsidizing low-income residents and subsidizing others to get them on the bus.

“Even though we don’t get cash revenue, each additional passenger brings in gas tax revenue – so it’s a net benefit to the community.”

Siscoe, who joined the regional council to take the Sandy Bellows seat as the St. Catharines representative in January, is one of 15 members of Niagara’s first regional transit commission.

He asked the staff for a report on the implementation of the project, which should be ready for the meeting of the regional transit commission on September 6, which is also the first day of school.

A University of Waterloo study of the Kingston program showed that about half of student bus trips were for after-hours activities. The data also showed that after graduation, students continued to use public transit to get around Kingston.

“You have to come in and teach the students,” said Siscoe, a high school teacher. “There doesn’t have to be a lot of instruction as long as they know the bus routes and everything else.

“My son, who is 13 and goes to high school, came to see me a few weeks ago and said, ‘I’m going to the movies with my friends. Do you mind if I take the bus?

“I did the education component because I know the system well. We downloaded the transit app and I connected it to my credit card so he always had a bus ticket and showed him how you put where you go.

“It was an adventure for him and his friend, and they had a great time. It’s fantastic for both of us because he’s more independent – and it’s one less trip for me.

“This is one of those exciting ideas that is a small idea in terms of cost, but could have a lasting positive impact in Niagara.

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