This Week at Council: Water Talk and Transit Changes

April’s Committee of the Whole meeting was short on controversy, but loaded with insightful information about a couple important City departments. This week’s those topics of conversation were built around the annual water quality report, the Stormwater Master Plan, and the transit fare review for Guelph Transit. There were a lot of facts and figures coming at us this week, so let’s recap them the best we can!

Committee of the Whole Meeting – April 4

Water and transit was the focus of this month’s committee meeting, but first they had to get through the staff recognitions and the approval of a purely administrative update of the delegated authority bylaw.

The first matter given full attention was the 2022 Water Services Annual Report and Summary Report, which outlined the roles and responsibilities of the City of Guelph and city council as the owners of the system that provides the city its drinking water. Procedure was about all that committee could talk about because there was only one “adverse drinking water quality” (AWQI) incident in 2022, and it was caused during road construction and no water customers were affected.

A process report then resulted in process questions. Staff were asked about the amount of water taken in Guelph on a daily basis, how they qualify the safety of new wells when they’re discovered, the potential cost of doing city-wide water softening, and the ability to detect asbestos fibres in the system. Staff were also asked about their human resources needs and the potential loss of wetland as allowed in Bill 23. In that last case though, requirements for water source protection remain despite that highly controversial bill.

Councillor Dominique O’Rourke, acting as chair of the Infrastructure, Development and Enterprise service area, thanked staff for their hard work after the auditor’s report noted the strong team, strong processes, and continuous improvement in the water department. She also credited the community for a one per cent drop in water consumption despite our big rise in population growth.

Ward 4 Councillor Linda Busuttil asked to pull the consent report about the Stormwater Management Master Plan, specifically in regards to a proposed stormwater feature in Margaret Greene Park. Staff were asked about how the proposed sites for stormwater features are chosen, how a surface feature is chosen over an underground one, and whether there’s any co-ordination between stormwater and other City departments about capital projects. Once Busuttil got some assurances, the recommendation was passed unanimously.

The last, and biggest, item of the agenda was the Transit Fare Strategy. Staff laid out the plan which involves expansion of the OnYourWay card, an increase to bus bay rentals to outside agencies, the continuation of the Kids Ride Free program, a new corporate bus pass, and a City employee pass program that will be offered 100 per cent free for City Hall staff in lieu of a parking pass.

The big changes though are to the monthly pass, which might now take on the appearance of a loyalty program. According to staff, the benefit of a fare capping model is that you end up paying-as-you-go, and then ride free when you get to the cap of 34 rides. The benefit is that you don’t have to pay upfront for the full pass and only use what you need. Apparently, the most common argument in favour of fare capping is the 35 per cent of people who responded to a survey and said that they don’t use the monthly pass often enough to justify the full cost.

Even if council doesn’t approve the fare capping model, staff are still recommending an increase to the cost of the monthly pass along with an increase of 25 cents to the cash fare. Self-service machines to fill your OnYourWay card will also be coming to City Hall, the West End Rec Centre, and Vic Road Rec Centre in Fall 2024, and debit and credit fare payments will be coming in 2025.

There was one delegation for this item, and it was Susan Carey, the chair of the Transit Advisory Committee. The fare strategy was not presented to TAC in advance of this meeting, but Carey said that there was a Zoom session between the committee and staff to inform them about the changes. Carey used her time to say that there’s a lot of potential with the plan and that we need to create culture of transit use starting with children.

Notes from council included some feedback about better branding for the OnYourWay card, looping in the Downtown Guelph Business Association about co-ordinating a corporate bus pass for small business owners, and the possibility or reserving some portion of fares for transit capital projects. There were also some questions about the lack of pre-meeting consultation with TAC, and how Metrolinx staffing issues at the train station are the reason why it’s closed so often.

Committee unanimously approved the recommendations, and then they considered an additional motion from Mayor Cam Guthrie to direct staff to come back with recommendations for increasing accessibility to bus passes for high school students and seniors in advance of the multi-year budget discussions later this year. That motion was also passed unanimously.

Click here to see the complete recap of the meeting.

The next meeting of city council is the Planning Meeting on Tuesday April 18 at 10 am.

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