Friday and Saturday nights have traditionally been a hard time to find a taxi in downtown St. Catharines. With thousands of revelers spilling out into the streets after last call, all looking for cabs headed to Brock University, south St Catharines and Thorold, it is not uncommon for club-goers to wait upwards of an hour for an available taxi.To help solve this transportation shortfall, the St. Catharines Transit Commission (SCTC), the City of St. Catharines and the St. Catharines Downtown Association have joined together to create the city’s first late night bus service. The three groups consulted with 5-0 Taxi when designing the plan, which will see buses running along Glenridge Ave., from the downtown core to Brock.
The buses will pick up passengers at five points around the downtown core, who will be allowed to disembark at all lighted intersections between downtown and Brock. The buses will run every 20 minutes, and the fare will be $2. Regular city bus passes will not be accepted for the late night service, and the buses will not pick up passengers going north from Brock to downtown.
Many Brock students think the bus service is an excellent idea, citing the lack of cabs after last call.
“When the bars are busy and if it’s a nice night out, I won’t even try for a taxi. I have waited over an hour a few times,” says third-year English major David Mason.
Downtown merchants are also pleased with the new transportation option.
“It takes five hours to fill the bars and takes only minutes to empty them,” says Andrew Bowles, SCDA communications coordinator. “Some people are hanging out after hours are causing damage to local businesses … We need this program because we need to move people as quickly as possible.”
According to Bowles, the bus initiative will be beneficial for students’ safety.
“Some students are taking the option of walking home and that is a big safety concern,” said Bowles. “A big part of this issue is community based. This is a preventative measure to get young people home safely.”
The Niagara Regional Police (NRP) believe that the bus service will help lower the incidences of alcohol related violence in the downtown core.
“The increased waiting time is going to increase interaction between people,” says NRP Sergeant Ted Matoga. “If there is alcohol involved, potential disputes that arise in the bars will have more time to develop outside the bar.”
Not everyone is pleased with the new bus service, however. At a meeting on March 20, representatives from Central Taxi said that they were upset about being left out of the initial discussions, and were concerned about potential loss of revenue for their drivers as a result of the bus service.
“This is taking fares away from our drivers. We have to protect our drivers,” said Joe Brugman, Central Taxi. “It is not the bus that concerns us as much as the process. We were never thought of.”
The late night service had only four passengers on Friday, March 22, its first night of operation. Ridership improved the next evening, however, with about 60 people availing themselves of the new service.
“We are going to have to get the word out more,” said Bowles.
Taxi companies did not report a noticeable loss of revenue of the course of the bus service’s first weekend.
“This being the first weekend we didn’t feel a big effect,” said Christina Pietracupa, 5-0 Taxi’s executive assistant. “Although we are not aware of any revenue decreases, 5-0 would like to work in conjunction with the SCDA for the safety of the students and the community,”
Pietracupa says that if there is an eventual drop in revenue due to the bus service, 5-0 would be willing to incur it in the interest of community safety.