NORTH PERTH – Council voted in favour of supporting an extension to March 31, 2025, of the intercommunity portion of PC Connect which connects North Perth residents with Kitchener-Waterloo on Oct. 25.
Perth County and Stratford, in partnership with North Perth and St. Marys, launched the PC Connect Intercommunity Transit service with support from the Ministry of Transportation Communality Transportation program last November.
“The intercommunity (transit service), which connects us to the other regions and transit hubs, being London and Kitchener was a separate project done by the City of Stratford and the only partners that contributed at that time just due to it being mostly to our advantage were North Perth, St. Marys and the City itself,” said CAO Kriss Snell.
The program was originally intended to be a five-year pilot program, however, the project launch was substantially delayed by the 2019 provincial election and the 2020 outbreak of COVID- 19, which reduced program duration to two and a half years, ending March 31, 2023.
In the summer, the Ministry of Transportation announced that Community Transportation grant recipients would receive a two-year pilot program extension with additional funding. Stratford received $611,936.91 to continue PC Connect March 31, 2025, however, a substantial municipal investment will be required to extend the program.
“We do have an opportunity to proceed with the extension of the inter-community transit service through PC Connect which is in our case, the bus route from Listowel to Kitchener,” said Snell. “The difference between the county portion and the City of Stratford portion is the continuation of the City of Stratford portion which would be our route from Kitchener to Listowel would require some investment from the local municipalities.”
The province has simultaneously announced GO Train services from London to St. Marys and Stratford.
“I don’t see this as having a huge direct impact on North Perth residents,” said Snell. “I think any opportunity where we see an expansion of vital and connected transit systems into southwestern Ontario is overall a good step for our region.”
He also drew council’s attention to the increase in ridership on the route that connects Listowel to Kitchener.
“Through the pandemic, it showed very low ridership, however in September we did see some encouraging signs with ridership almost doubling – so we had 91 rides in September,” said Snell. “Hopefully we’ll see an increase like this as we continue with easing of the pandemic in the future.”
The City of Stratford has had several follow up meetings with the Ministry of Transportation to look at how they arrived at the funding allocations for the extensions.
“The PC Connect county portion did receive almost enough money to fund the project without a local investment, however, our project with the City of Stratford will require some local investment if we want to continue,” he said.
To keep the intercommunity portion of PC Connect running until March 1 2025 North Perth may need to contribute $106,327.42 in 2022, $139,204.46 in 2023, $156,343.85 in 2024 and $9,005.26 in 2025.
“The important note in this, this does not include any revenue from ridership so this is the worst-case scenario,” said Snell. “As staff, we thought that was most important to provide to the councils. So any ridership revenue will be deducted from this shortfall.”
He said if it runs through 2025, at that time the municipality should “have a better feel running this route without the effects of the pandemic in place.”
“Yes, there’s a cost to transit and sooner or later North Perth’s ratepayers may have to absorb some of that, face some of that,” said Mayor Todd Kasenberg. “That’s also a consequence of us as a growing community so I find myself supportive at least in principle.”
Council voted in favour of supporting the extension of the Local Partnership Agreement with The City of Stratford to continue offering community transportation through PC Connect until March 2025.
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner