The issue of the Port Robinson Ferry was settled Wednesday night during Thorold’s budget deliberations. By voting unanimously in favour of a motion from Councillor Neale and seconded by Councillor Ugulini to fund their share, as set by the Region’s budget deliberations, of $33,250, Bridge-It has a two-year reprieve before the hand-wringing begins all over again.
Thorold Councillors were presented the report by City CAO Frank Fabiano, with a further explanation that they would follow up on the Region’s suggestion to take the matter up with Transport Canada, especially now that the federal riding has an MP of the ruling party, with the Region’s help. He cautioned them, though that, so far at least, Transport Canada had shown no interest in continuing to fund the ferry.
The CAO also informed Council that he is still negotiating with the Seaway over the cost of the ramp revitalization, bringing it to AODA standards. He said that the City had another, more recent estimate done on the work that needs to be done, which came in at approximately $126,000 for both sides, a great difference from the figure of over $600,000 presented to the Region by Region’s staff at their budget deliberations.
In the end, he asked Council, “Do we want to?”
Discussion began with Councillor Handley suggesting a “toll booth” to charge non-residents, but it was suggested that the cost and logistics of collecting the fees would be prohibitive. And, since the ferry is being subsidized by both City and Regional taxpayers, the City couldn’t very well charge anyone from within the Region and not their own citizens.
Councillor Longo commented that “If we don’t commit money to it, we won’t look very good to the federal government going forward” and Councilor Neale added that “If we lose, we’re never going to get it back.
Councillor Ugulini pointed out that the Region will actually be paying more than half with extended ferry hours, as the money they have thrown in for that purpose will bring their share to $66,500. He then suggested that some offsetting revenue might be raised by selling space for advertising at the site. “The positives outweigh any negatives,” he stated.
Mayor Luciani pointed out the value to the tourists by offering a direct cycling route to Niagara Falls. He added that, on some occasions, cyclists have arrived here from elsewhere intending to ride the entire Greater Niagara Circle Route, but find that the distance is much greater than it appeared looking at a map. The shortcut at the ferry is of extra value to these people. “My personal feeling is that we take it on for two years. Then, if it [negotiation with Transport Canada] doesn’t work out, we’ll have to close it.”
Councillor Charron commented, “It’s there. It’s a major component of tourism,” in supporting the motion.
So this phase of saving Bridge-It has been accomplished, provided that nothing happens to either of the two motions in the final budget steps, thanks to the work a lot of different organizations. But we can’t get complacent. It’s highly unlikely that the Region will fund it again once the two years is up and dealing with the Seaway and Transport Canada is never an easy thing. The only alternative is for those who have an interest in it to find a way to fund it – now.
Two years isn’t a long in time in the world of bureaucrats and politicians.