SMART ridership continues to grow

April 7, 2015

Town Council

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Roger Cook of Saugeen Mobility and Regional Transit (SMART), presented an update to Kincardine Council at its last meeting.

SMART serves the mentally and physically challenged residents of Kincardine, Saugeen Shores, Brockton, Arran-Elderslie, Hanover, Huron-Kinloss, Southgate and West Grey with safe and dependable transportation.

According to Cook, 2014 proved to be an exceptionally busy year with an increase in individual ridership of 60 per cent resulting in the hiring of several drivers and the need to add six vehicles.

Unfortunately, the province (MTO) also chose to change the timing of the Dedicated Gas Tax for Transit from October to April.  The result was that the funding for the second half of the year for SMART should have been $420,000.  In reality, it turned out to be $205,000.

The delay, in combination with the sudden growth and all the costs involved, created a serious cash flow for SMART and a resulting near-depletion of its Gax Tax Reserve account.

For each MTO funding cycle, two calculations for each transit service are made - the amount a service is eligible for based on population and ridership and the amount represented by a 75 per cent local revenue cap based on municipal funding, user fees, donations, etc.  Each service then receives the lower amount of the two.

In 2013, SMART was eligible for $462,738 but only received $346,667 leaving a difference of -$116,071.  A total payment for 2014-15 is expected to be $429,658 but the service was eligible for $607,073 again leaving a difference of -$177,415.

The payment for 2015-16 should be $509,805 based on the 2014 revenue of $679,740. 

"Receiving full MTO funding is critical to the financial stability and continued success of SMART," said Cook, "and will require an increase in local funding of about $8.00 per household per year."

 On November 28, 2014, the SMART Board of Directors (made up of local Mayors) voted to increase individual fees from $2.00 + $.30/km with a $5.00 minimum to $2.00 + $.50/km with a $7.50 minimum.  Unfortunately, for many, this has created a hardship in affordability.

SMART's individual user fees are now among the highest public transit user fees in the province.

SMART finished 2014 with a total ride count of 30,287, up 43.87 per cent with individual ridership up 63.72 per cent.

Currently, Kincardine has 175 clients representing approximately 1.6 per cent of the population of 10,763.  Ridership in 2014 was up 60.9 per cent to 3,329 rides compared to 2,069 in 2013.  Individual ridership was 2,437, up 61.9 per cent and group rides were 892 compared to 564. 

A 'ride' is one person who travels from 'A' to 'B' with a return trip counting as two rides.  Each rider is also allowed a companion/attendant to ride free of charge but they are counted as 'rides'.   In 2015, local revenue is anticipated to be approximately $790,000 - of which $536,000 is provided by eight partner municipalities 250,000 by user fees and $4,000 through donations and other miscellaneous revenue sources.  This local revenue would then result in MTO funding for 2016-17 of $592,500.  Operational expenses are expected to be about $1,150,000 with the net operating deficit fully funded by the Gas Tax Reserve. 

Kincardine's share of the 2015 municipal contribution is $66,692,07 up from $49,698.23 in 2014.  Therefore, the share of increase is about 2%, up 12.44% from 12.19%.

At $66,692.07, the result on local taxation would be .6%.

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Roger Cook

For local taxpayers, SMART represents  a tremendous value when compared to other specialized public transit services.

SMART serves a population of more than 70,000 which makes it one of 34 services in Ontario serving populations greater than 50,000.

In 2013, these 34 services had operational expenses of nearly $170,000 per vehicle while SMART had operational expenses of less than $45,000 per vehicle.

On average, these 34 services received municipal funding for more than 85% of their 2013 operating expenses. SMART received about 45% and in 2014 received less than 40%. In 2013, the City of Owen Sound spent more than $175,000 to operate a single specialized vehicle.

"For those who use and depend on SMART, this is a service that is highly valued," says Cook, "and with the aging populations in rural areas, the demand for the service that SMART provides is only going to increase."

The service provided through SMART helps to keep the most vulnerable members of the community independent, mobile and involved. Many studies have shown a direct link between mobility and good health, both physical and mental.

For more information on SMART, email: roger@saugeenmobility.ca or call 519-881-2589.

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Monday, April 06, 2015