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Peterborough Transit Budget to Remain at 2022 Levels for 2023

Written by
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay
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January 18, 2023
Peterborough Transit Budget to Remain at 2022 Levels for 2023
Photo: Rishabh Joshi

A motion to maintain spending for Peterborough Transit at 2022 levels until Council receives a report on transit in March passed 9-2 despite warnings from City Staff that the move would result in a reduction in service and likely cost some workers and drivers their jobs. Only Town Ward Councillors Alex Bierk and Joy Lachica voted against. 

The motion, which was put forward by Councillor Andrew Beamer at Tuesday night’s Finance Committee meeting, would see the City save approximately $1M. The rationale, according to Beamer, was to decrease the increase in the tax levy for the 2023 year, which currently sits at 4% in the draft budget. 

Beamer, who brought up a similar motion during the 2022 budget discussions but saw it fail, told Council that 4% is just too high and because of this “we have to take a pause on transit spending” at least until the March report. 

City Staff, however, were quick to point out that this motion, while framed as a pause in spending, is in effect a cut to the transit service which is already plagued with cancellations due to worker shortages and stressful working conditions.

Peterborough Transit has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels of ridership, a figure Commissioner of Infrastructure and Planning Services, Jasbir Raina, suggested is between 70-80% of those prior to 2020. 

During the discussion, Transit Manager Laurie Stratton noted that should this measure go through then it would be antithetical to the goals of the City at a time when they should be attempting to build confidence in the service through providing reliable, timely transportation. Instead, she said that “targeted cuts would happen quite rapidly” and that these would take place at the level of staffing and service. This would, she went on, naturally affect the ability of Peterborough Transit to build back its ridership.

Councillors Lachica and Bierk both spoke out strongly against the motion. Bierk immediately mentioned his concerns for the impact this would have on drivers and transit workers saying they would inevitably be the ones who suffer.

Town Ward Councillors Joy Lachica and Alex Bierk were the only two to vote against the motion to freeze transit funding. Photo credit: Eliza Mill

“It seems counterintuitive to remove supports when we want to make it better,” Lachica said. 

Another concern brought forth by Richard Freymond, Commissioner of Corporate and Legislative Services was the responsibilities that the City owes in regards to collective agreements with ATU 1320.

Despite this, Mayor Jeff Leal thought that the motion “had merit at this particular juncture” and that it represented “a really good opportunity to consider what we really want Peterborough transit to deliver.”   

Leal went on to note that he is aware of the “systemic problems” within the transit service, but he remained sceptical about whether or not the $1M at stake in this motion would solve these specific problems. Instead, he was in favour of “taking a hiatus.”

Curious logic aside, it became clear throughout the discussion on the motion that most councillors supported it. Duguay noted his will to “hold the line” while Baldwin opined that the issue with the 4% suggested tax increase wasn’t the 4% number, but rather the way in which those tax dollars were being allocated. As such, he was “betwixt and between.”

Riel went so far as to call the warnings of City Staff members regarding the loss of jobs “fearmongering” while Beamer returned to his previous concern of respecting the taxpayer who “sees their tax dollars driving by on empty buses.”

Following the meeting, both Town Ward Councillors gave brief statements to Arthur which largely echoed their previous concerns. 

“It’s totally unproductive to keep going back and forth on this. It’s contradictory to prior discussions of Council,” Bierk said, referring specifically to a meeting on December 12th, 2022 during which discussions of taking any action which might affect the levels of service of Peterborough transit were put off until March. “I don’t buy that this is going to save money,” he added. 

When Arthur spoke to Lachica, was frustrated by what she saw as the illogic of not listening to City Staff and taking resources away from an area that is already struggling. “Job losses are not hyperbole,” she said and noted that Council should be waiting to take action until the transit committee can meet.        

In a phone interview on Wednesday morning, President of ATU 1320 Cory MacLeod said that he was “optimistic about the future” while also recognizing that this decision will create difficulties for transit in the city specifically as they are trying to build ridership and confidence in the system. 

When asked about the possibility of job losses and cuts to service that were raised by City Staff, MacCloud called this “alarming” and further mentioned that he wasn’t privy to how the funding would be allocated, noting that a more responsible allocation of operating funds would result in a better service. 

“If you manage the system properly then I’m not sure why there would be cuts,” he continued, while echoing Council’s concerns regarding the wasteful funding of the on demand service and the non-revenue miles it incurs for the service. 

“It’s counterintuitive to run transit like a taxi service,” he said. “I see it failing before my eyes.”

In an email to Arthur TCSA President Zoe Litow-Daye wrote that in “limiting funding the city is hindering the ability of the grid system to work to its full potential. In all the TCSA's conversations with council members, we have advocated for an increased transit budget, it is disappointing that our suggestions have been ignored.” 

She did not mention what action the TCSA intends to take moving forward. 

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