Ontario Intercommunity Bus Policy Proposal

The Ministry of Transportation's Proposal for Intercommunity Buses

The Ministry of Transportation would like to improve transportation between Ontario communities. The 2016 Ontario Budget Jobs for Today and Tomorrow announced consultations to discuss options for promoting new and innovative choices for intercommunity passenger travel.

Engagement sessions were held across the province in summer and fall of 2016. These sessions brought together municipal leaders, Indigenous communities, industry operators, social and health service providers, and other interested parties.

Engagement sessions were based on the Ministry's proposal to improve passenger travel between communities, which was posted to the Environmental Registry for a 60-day comment period. The comment period closed on August 31, 2016.

The review of intercommunity bus transportation is a priority and the ministry is working quickly to complete it. The input received during the engagement will inform the development of solutions.

Working together, we can move forward to facilitate new, innovative and sustainable intercommunity passenger transportation services in Ontario.

The terms "intercity" and "intercommunity" are being used interchangeably. The Ministry recognizes the importance of passenger travel between cities as well as other types of communities.  

If you have any additional questions, please email us at intercitybus@ontario.ca.

What we're hearing

Week One: Owen Sound and Orillia

This is the first of these summaries for sessions held in Owen Sound on July 12, 2016 and Orillia on July 13, 2016. Here are some key themes that were heard at the first intercommunity bus engagement sessions:

Communities have different needs

  • Both Owen Sound and Orillia participants stressed that the needs of Ontario communities differ, and in particular those of small, northern and rural communities are not the same as those found in larger communities.
  • Some communities don't have intercommunity passenger transportation services so their starting point is quite different from those that do.
  • Solutions should be tailored to meet diverse needs.
  • Provincial assistance is needed to help improve intercommunity transportation in small communities.

Integration and local solutions

  • There are many local, home-grown programs and partnerships between municipalities, social and health services providers, community groups and the private sector.
  • There are often many services and funding programs that support discrete passenger transportation needs.
  • The province should work to harmonize and align these with a focus on maximizing the use of funding, equipment and operators.
  • An online portal or platform listing all available services and routes could be of assistance

Licensing and Safety

  • Policy changes should be made to "level the playing field". This would apply to the issuance of licences, insurance requirements and safety standards.
  • While removing the need to obtain a licence will not, by itself, "solve" the intercommunity bus challenge, it could help promote innovative service offerings and local solutions.
  • There was a diversity of views on whether smaller vehicles should be held to the same safety standard as larger vehicles such as motor coaches. Some say yes they should, others say that scaled requirements would be more appropriate.

The information and comments received at these sessions will be used to inform government decision-making on this important matter.

July 22, 2016

Week Two: Kenora and Thunder Bay

During our second week of engagement our team was in Kenora (July 19, 2016) and Thunder Bay (July 21, 2016). Here are some key themes that were heard at the intercommunity bus engagement sessions:

Subsidies:

  • Both Kenora and Thunder Bay participants stressed that subsidies are needed for adequate safe and accessible services.
  • In Northern Ontario, many critical routes will not be profitable due to ridership numbers.
  • There are many different ways that subsidies can be provided (e.g., franchise model, "vouchers").

Integration and efficiencies:

  • Participants from both sessions supported the need for better integration and service efficiencies
  • Harmonizing existing services, assets and funding could work to reduce costs and improve services
  • "Information hubs" could be developed to share information with users and help connect them to services offered
  • Many current services have a narrow group of users (e.g., those travelling for employment, medical or social services). There are opportunities to better align these services so they can be used by a broader group of travellers.

Safety requirements for smaller passenger buses:

  • Support from both sessions for small passenger vehicles (fewer than 10 passengers) to be held to a similar or the same safety standard that applies to larger vehicles.
  • Visual window decals on smaller passenger vehicles could be used to quickly signal to passengers and enforcement officers that a vehicle is being used for intercommunity transportation purposes.

Regulatory modernization:

  • Concern from both sessions that removing the need to obtain a Public Vehicle License could lead to instability in the sector. This could potentially lead to a decline in services should new operators entering the market go out of business due to low ridership.
  • Instead, many reiterated the importance of subsidies and franchising of critical routes.

The information and comments received at these sessions will be used to inform government decision-making on this important matter.

July 27, 2016

Week Three: North Bay and Sudbury

During our third week of engagement, our team was in North Bay (July 26, 2016) and Sudbury (July 28, 2016). Here are some key themes that were heard at the intercommunity bus engagement sessions:

Subsidies are essential for some routes:

  • Both North Bay and Sudbury participants emphasized that subsidies are needed for many intercommunity bus routes in Northeastern Ontario. Certain routes lack ridership and are unlikely to become self-sufficient, requiring long-term subsidies.
  • Modernization has the potential to improve service only if routes are subsidized to encourage operators to enter or remain in the market.

Improved connectivity and integration between existing services:

  • Participants highlighted the need for improved connectivity between existing services to facilitate effective linkages between Northeastern Ontario communities.
  • Better integration with other modes of transportation, including rail, marine and air is needed to ensure adequate access to transportation.
  • “Information hubs” could be developed to share available route options through centralized booking services, improving awareness of existing services among both passengers and operators.
  • More efficient use of existing local resources could help address gaps in regional transportation.

Safety requirements are important regardless of the vehicle size:

  • Participants from both sessions generally supported requiring small passenger vehicles (fewer than 10 passengers) to be held to a similar or the same safety standard that applies to larger vehicles.
  • However, some participants also recognized that safety standards applicable to motor coaches may not be appropriate for operators of small passenger vehicles and may be a barrier to providing needed services. Some suggested that scaled requirements may be more appropriate.

Modernization may not address core issues:

  • Participants from both sessions expressed concern that removing the need to obtain a Public Vehicle Licence could lead to additional service gaps, particularly in Northern Ontario.
  • Modernization alone will not address the underlying issue of low ridership and unprofitable routes in Northeastern Ontario and could result in route cancellations.
  • Subsidies and integrated services will have more of an impact on services than modernization.
  • Many emphasized the importance of small changes to the existing regulation to support subsidies and integrated services, rather than modernization.

The information and comments received at these sessions will be used to inform government decision-making on this important matter.

August 3, 2016

Week Four: Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins

During our fourth week of engagement our team was in Sault Ste. Marie (August 3, 2016) and Timmins (August 4, 2016). Here are some key themes that were heard at the intercommunity bus engagement sessions:

Modernization alone will not address transportation issues in Northern Ontario:

  • Participants from both sessions conveyed that modernization alone will not address low ridership, unprofitable routes or a lack of connections between rural communities and main routes in northern Ontario. Subsidies are required for most rural routes.
  • Modernization may lead to higher costs, including the cost of safety oversight for small vehicles (fewer than 10 passengers).
  • Participants identified the need for some level of oversight in a modernized environment; a pilot program to test the impact of modernization was suggested.
  • Some participants identified the need to develop a passenger transportation strategy that recognizes the importance of all modes of travel.

Northern Ontario needs tailored solutions:

  • Transportation solutions should focus on the consumer first, rather than revenue generation.
  • Service gaps, isolation and needs continue to increase in northern communities.
  • Modernization should consider the needs of northern and rural communities including infrastructure, weather conditions, travel distances and accessibility and amenity concerns for a rapidly aging population (e.g. on-board washrooms, comfortable seating, etc.).

Improve access and efficiency:

  • Safety, affordability and convenience are important to improve access for Northern Ontario communities through centralized, integrated services.
  • It is essential that all key players work together to find innovative ways to integrate services, share assets and create a hub to bring together scheduling, routes and links.
  • While there is a provincial role in facilitating services, communities have a role in determining the services needed as well as even offering connecting services.
  • There is a need for inter-provincial harmonization and a level playing field with other provinces.
  • Ideas for provincial support to improve services include: franchise subsidy model and capital investment funding for private operators.
  • Link modernization to initiatives outlined in the Climate Change Action Plan.

Safety requirements are paramount, but finding a balance is important:

  • Participants from both sessions agreed that passenger safety is of utmost concern and safety requirements should be consistent regardless of vehicle size and passenger load.
  • Recognition that enhanced safety requirements may result in large administrative burden on smaller operators. Consideration given to a hybrid approach for licensing and special licence plates to reduce inspection frequency.

The information and comments received at these sessions will be used to inform government decision-making on this important matter.

August 15, 2016

Week Five: Niagara Falls and Toronto

During our fifth week of engagement our team was in Niagara Falls (August 10, 2016) and Toronto (August 11, 2016). Here are some key themes that were heard at the intercommunity bus engagement sessions:

Niagara Falls

Differing views on modernization:

  • Some participants indicated that modernization has the potential to increase competition, innovation and investment within the intercommunity bus industry, resulting in service improvements and cost reductions for travelers.
  • Other participants cautioned that modernization could lead to service reductions and discontinuances.

Need for careful consideration of any subsidies:

  • Subsidies identified as solution to address issues related to low ridership and unprofitable routes.
  • Governments should carefully consider how any subsidies are implemented, including who and/or what to subsidize, in order to avoid any unintended consequences.

Safety requirements are paramount, but finding a balance is important:

  • Participants agreed that passenger safety is vitally important. While some participants advocated for "levelling the playing field" with smaller vehicles being held to the same safety standard as larger vehicles such as motor coaches, others said that scaled requirements would be more appropriate.
  • Enforcement was identified as an issue, and necessary to ensure enhancements to safety and insurance requirements are being complied with.

Need for better connections:

  • Centralized and integrated service provision was identified as an approach to improve safety, affordability, accessibility and convenience of bus services throughout the province.
  • Interlining of existing services, including car sharing services, was identified as a specific need. Better use of existing resources and improved coordination of transportation hubs to better interline services was suggested.

Toronto

Diversity of views on modernization:

  • Some participants cautioned that modernization could lead to increased competition on profitable routes ("cherry picking"), service gaps on less profitable routes and a reduction in the quality of services.
  • Other options for modernization included appropriately enhanced regulations e.g. market exit controls, pricing.
  • The need to improve connections between communities and between intercommunity bus services and other modes of transportation, including rail and air was identified as the main issue, rather than modernized regulations.

Safety is critical, but there is opportunity for scaled solutions:

  • Some participants said that smaller vehicles should be held to the same safety standards as full size motor coaches.
  • Others expressed scaled requirements for smaller vehicles could promote opportunities for competition. Suggestions included modified inspection requirements, negotiation of competitive insurance rates, and scaling insurance and preventative maintenance to mileage for smaller vehicles.

Innovative solutions and opportunities to learn from the private sector

  • Governments should consider innovative solutions from the private sector.
  • Municipalities could consider using the brokerage model currently utilized in the United States. Similar to a hub model, a firm is contracted to identify the transportation needs of a particular community, and dispatch trips to interested private companies.
  • A hybrid or franchise model for intercommunity busing would create more opportunities for smaller operators to bid on routes owned by larger operators.
  • Ideas for first mile/ last mile connectivity included integration with carpooling, ride-sourcing services (e.g., Uber) and cycling.

Need for coordination and funding

  • Participants suggested pairing community needs with resources to inform funding requirements.
  • A transit hub, established with the help of local government and the province, would provide a space where all services can be better integrated and rolled out.
  • To identify innovative ways to integrate services, it is essential that all key players work together to share information and resources.

August 15, 2016

Week Six: Kingston

During our sixth week of engagement, our team was in Kingston on August 18, 2016. Here are the key themes we heard at the intercommunity bus engagement session:

Communities are unique:

  • Participants at the Kingston session highlighted that communities have their own challenges regarding intercommunity bus transportation, which cannot be solved with a generic solution.

Safety requirements are important:

  • Participants agreed that safety standards, accessibility and enforcement are important regardless of the company or vehicle size.
  • Some participants felt that there should be flexibility with regard to the safety standards (e.g., frequency of some requirements, flexibility for facility audit) so that compliance with safety standards would not act as a barrier to companies entering the market.

Collaboration and coordination between services

  • Participants felt strongly that there should be increased collaboration between existing public, private and volunteer services to maximize existing resources and improve service options (e.g., coordinating appointments, mapping all available services and connecting to multi-modal services outside the region). 

August 22, 2016

Week Seven: London and Sarnia

During our seventh week of engagement sessions our team was in London (August 23, 2016) and Sarnia (August 24, 2016). Here are some key themes that were heard at the intercommunity bus engagement sessions:

Ontario's transportation needs are evolving:

  • The intercommunity bus regulatory environment and services have not kept pace with the evolving transportation landscape and change is needed.
  • Health and social service providers are delivering transportation services that they have not previously offered. The Ministry of Transportation should involve other relevant ministries in the decision-making process.
  • Ensuring access to education for youth and students, some of whom are travelling in new and different ways, requires better linkages to neighboring communities than was required in previous eras.

Communities are facing distinct challenges:

  • Communities in Southwestern Ontario face unique transportation challenges not present in other parts of the province, including the need to provide connections with neighboring communities in the United States.
  • Policy-makers should work more closely with communities to leverage community knowledge and identify solutions tailored to their specific needs.

Collaboration, coordination and accessibility are important:

  • There should be increased collaboration between existing public, private and volunteer services to complete a needs analysis, share information and resources, find efficiencies, maximize service options and identify effective solutions. Integration with hospitals and post-secondary institutions would be beneficial.
  • The concept of centralized, integrated and interlined services was highlighted repeatedly. Safety, affordability, accessibility and convenience are especially important to improve access throughout the province.
  • Better connections between intercommunity bus services and other modes of transportation, including rail and air, could improve passenger experience.
  • A transit hub, established with the help of local and provincial government, could provide a space where all services can be better integrated and rolled out.

Safety requirements are paramount, but finding a balance is important:

  • Passenger safety is of the utmost concern and safety requirements should be consistent regardless of vehicle size and passenger load to foster a level playing field amongst all carriers.
  • A balance for some safety requirements could be struck to decrease some administrative burdens on smaller operators. Ideas included less frequent mandatory inspections for smaller operators.
  • Governments could consider subsidizing a portion of the costs of complying with any new safety requirements for smaller operators.
  • To account for the influx of operators in a deregulated market, reallocating resources to ensure safety and insurance requirements are adequately enforced should be considered.

Subsidies for intercommunity bus transportation:

  • Subsidies and greater public funding is needed to address issues related to low ridership and unprofitable routes.
  • There was support for franchise models, for subsidizing operators to aid in creating a stronger business case, and for devoting subsidies for more vulnerable community members.
  • Participants highlighted connections between availability of intercommunity transportation, economic development and the need to build healthy communities.

August 26, 2016

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