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City eyeing transit expansion . . . but not right now

The province is promising to drastically increase gas tax funding, but not until the after the next election
20170209 Steven Del Duca Mayor Christian Provenzano KA
Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca seen during a funding announcement at the bus barn today with Mayor Christian Provenzano. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday

The province of Ontario announced today it will double the amount of transit funding the city receives from the tax on gasoline — but not until after the next election.

Steven Del Duca, minister of transportation, made the announcement along with Mayor Christian Provenzano at the 'bus barn' transit garage on Huron Street this morning.

“We’ve heard loud and clear from municipalities that they need more sustainable funding for public transit to keep up with the demand to provide more service," said Del Duca.

In 2016-17, the city is receiving $1.1 million, its share of the two-cents-per-litre gas tax the province puts toward municipal transit.

Today’s announcement would see that amount double to $2.2 million in 2021-22, with incremental increases in 2019-20, after the next provincial election in 2018.

Don Scott, manager of transit and parking for the city, said the additional money will be put to good use on projects which have been postponed in the past due to lack of funds.

“This is going to allow us to bring in new vehicles and its going to allow us to bring service to under-serviced areas. This is going to be huge for us,” said Scott immediately after today’s announcement.

With a route optimization study currently being conducted by the city, Scott said it is not inconceivable the recently scaled-back Sunday service could be restored as a result of the added funding, which is still two years away.

The review of conventional transit service will also explore reworking existing bus routes to recapture ‘lost ridership’ caused by north end development, like Sault Area Hospital and the new St. Mary’s College.

Provenzano said he would welcome the return of full Sunday bus service if the study shows there is a need.

“I’m hoping we will get some good suggestions and advice from that (study) and I am hopeful we can plan, particularly with these funds, an increase in our transit services in the future,” said Provenzano.

Del Duca said the program which offers a share of the gas tax toward public transit has existed for a number of years and is now being expanded. He made similar funding announcements recently in other municipalities, like Barrie and Thunder Bay.

Ross Romano, who attended the meeting as candidate for the Ontario PC party for the yet-to-be-announced byelection to replace former MPP David Orazietti, said the ‘re-announcement’ is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

“It’s interesting we seem to see more of Premier Wynne now and funding announcements now that there is an impending byelection in Sault Ste. Marie,” said Romano.

He suggested the provincial Liberal government is trying to confuse voters into thinking it is achieving more than it actually is, and they should be concentrating on labour issues within the city.

“After 13 years of waste and mismanagement, there is more that should be done,” said Romano.

Romano appeared as the PC candidate for a Liberal funding announcement for the city, which he represents as a councillor for Ward 6.

“It’s important to be able to draw a distinction between both roles, can it be difficult at times? Absolutely. But I have tried to strike an adequate balance between the two and I am confident that I have done so. I feel my representation of this community is first and foremost as a city councillor, and I have kept that as my number one priority,” said Romano.

He has previously said he will step down as city councillor as soon as the byelection is called by the premiere.

In that byelection, Romano will face wardmate Joe Krmpotich, who is running for the NDP.

During last night’s public consultation at the Civic Centre, Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Shoemaker confirmed he has been formally approached to represent the Liberal party in the byelection, but he hasn’t made a final decision as to whether he will run.

Scott made a distinction between today's provincial funding announcement and the $3.2 million in matching transit infrastructure funds offered by the federal government last year.

The city decided to only accept about $300,000 from the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, leaving almost $3 million on the table because the city could not come up with more money required to match the federal funds.

Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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