Today, February 16, is the official beginning of Chinese New Year. In the Chinese Zodiac, 2018 is the Year of the Dog and celebrates the virtues of honesty and loyalty which are demonstrated by our canine friends.
On behalf of Lethbridge City Council, I would like to extend our best wishes to those celebrating Chinese New Year and Japanese New Year in our city. We are fortunate that our Chinese and Japanese communities host cultural events in our city around these annual celebrations.
This week, members of City Council met as Community Issues Committee for a broad-ranging discussion about the new Transit Master Plan. This master plan was developed in 2016 and 2017 to review the services offered by Lethbridge Transit and provide direction for improvements to be implemented over the next 20 years. You can view the Transit Master Plan at: www.lethbridge.ca/transitplan.
Using transit data, the plan highlights that our transit ridership numbers are stagnant and that the system is under-utilized. The plan proposes some fundamental changes to our transit system aimed at increasing ridership by shortening travel times, simplifying routes, and introducing higher frequency routes on major east-west and north-south corridors that serve major destinations.
There are differing opinions on how best to achieve these objectives. The current service standard for Lethbridge Transit was approved by City Council in 2007. It calls for 30-minute route frequency during core service hours (6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, for example) and bus stops to be within a 400-metre walk for most residents.
The Transit Master Plan includes conceptual models of how we could transition over time to a layered system with several higher-volume/higher-frequency routes that could be fed by secondary routes that cover the north, south and west areas of the city as well as a network of neighbourhood routes. The actual implementation of any such changes would require the approval by council of an implementation strategy as well as any associated funding requirements.
City Council members recognize that a sizeable segment of our community relies on municipal transit as their primary means of transportation. For a significant number of senior citizens, students, newcomers to Canada, and others, Lethbridge Transit is the only affordable way to get to work, school, medical and dental appointments, or shopping.
We recognize that an efficient, reliable and affordable transit system is a key quality-of-life component in a contemporary, growing city like ours. At the same time, we accept the responsibility to manage taxpayer dollars appropriately. Currently, Lethbridge Transit recovers about 25 per cent of its operating costs from fares. The balance is subsidized by taxpayers.
Implementing fundamental changes to our transit system would likely require some measure of additional funding support in future City operating budgets. So, when it comes time for City Council members to debate such changes, we will be looking for strategies that deliver the most value and efficiency while minimizing or avoiding impact to taxpayers.
One other factor that is relevant to this conversation is the level of service we currently provide through our ACCESS-A-Ride (AAR) service. This service is intended for those who are unable to use conventional transit service due to physical or other limitations. The Transit Master Plan acknowledges that the current eligibility criteria for ACCESS-A-Ride service could be strengthened. The accessibility of conventional transit has improved immensely from a decade ago, and so, in order to manage costs, we have to re-examine the AAR eligibility criteria to ensure it is used only by those for whom regular bus service is truly not an option.
Occasionally, Council members hear from residents with questions about how municipal grants are awarded for various types of community events. When accessing these publicly-funded grants, it's important for applicants to meet the eligibility criteria, but it's equally important that they have the ability, after their events take place, to demonstrate in measurable terms the value the events brought to our community.
A grant information session was held Feb. 13 at City Hall to help potential grant applicants better understand the various grants that are available. I encourage all groups who are planning to apply for municipal grants to attend an upcoming session on Feb. 26 at ENMAX Centre to learn how to better demonstrate and report the value of their events to funders such as the City as well as sponsors and other stakeholders. This session will run from 4-6 p.m. and will be co-presented by the ENMAX Centre and the Lethbridge Lodging Association.
I continue to emphasize the importance of economic development to the future of our city. Private sector investment and the new jobs it generates are critical elements in a healthy, growing community. Through Economic Development Lethbridge, our city continues to seek out and attract new investment. At every opportunity, we convey the message that Lethbridge is a friendly place for private investment and an excellent place to operate a business – large or small. Any opportunities our citizens and business community have to support this message will only enhance our efforts.
New investment provides more opportunities for graduates of the University of Lethbridge and Lethbridge College. As a municipality, we want to provide a high level of service to investors and help them navigate the development process efficiently.
Lastly, work on City Council's strategic plan will get underway next week. On Feb. 21-23, Council members will participate in facilitated planning sessions here in the city to reflect on our goals and aspirations for the betterment of our community during our term on City Council. Some of this input we will have received during last fall's election campaign, but we continue to welcome input from the public as we develop clearly defined priorities over the next couple of months.
Mayor Chris Spearman
February 16, 2018