June 15th, 2024

City gets $630K to offset transit woes

By MEDICINE HAT NEWS on April 14, 2022.

The City of Medicine Hat is receiving $630,000 in government grants aimed at easing local transit revenue burdens, which arose during the pandemic.--NEWS FILE PHOTO


Medicine Hat will receive $630,000 from the province and Ottawa to help make up for a steep decline in transit ridership and revenue during the pandemic.

The money, part of nearly $160 million being spent in Alberta, includes $10 million designated to mid- to small-sized communities.

“We’re really, really grateful for the funding,” said recently hired manager of transit services Trevor Sparrow. “(The grant) relates to lost revenue, and we continue to be impacted by the pandemic and now the recovery.

“We’re hopefully heading in the right direction.”

Earlier this year, an overview of city transit services provided to councillors stated that ridership dropped from about 70,000 boardings each month in 2019 to about 18,000 in 2021.

That comes as more people were out of work, facilities were closed, events were limited and Medicine Hat College (a busy destination) provided online services for times.

Financially, the service typically recovered about 85 per cent of its $6.8-million annual budget from taxpayer support and the remainder from fares. That rose to 90 per cent last year even as the service changed the frequency of routes, stopped service on statutory holidays and introduced evening “on-demand” service in some areas.

“We were prudent,” said Sparrow. “As revenue and ridership grows we’ll bring those levels back up, because it is a necessity for a lot of people.”

A survey of riders found about half used the system because they did not own or have access to a vehicle, while the remainder was comprised mostly of those who did not have a licence or felt the bus was less expensive than driving.

The program was discussed briefly by council several months ago, when the federal government suggested the money could be tied to a municipalities action to build affordable housing. There were no such strings attached, however.

The announcement was made at a joint press conferences in Calgary and Edmonton, but will include grants for 24 municipal transit systems in Alberta.

Premier Jason Kenney said that transit will be a “vital component of economic recovery,” while federal Minister Marcie Ien said the service is crucial for seniors, college students and lower-income earners.

Ottawa and the province will each provide about half the money for the $159 million total in the Relief for Shortfalls for Transit Operators (RESTOR) program.

Calgary, Okotoks, Airdrie and several other municipalities will share $82.4 million to make up for a ridership and revenue gaps.

Edmonton received $67 million, with another $2.4 million split up by surrounding communities, including Sherwood Park and St. Albert.

Other major centres receiving funding were Red Deer ($2.1 million), Lethbridge ($1.23 million), Fort McMurray ($1.2 million) and Bow Valley partnership, including Banff ($1.16 million).

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