(Today’s Northumberland file photo)
Cobourg Mayor Lucas Cleveland has explained in greater detail his comments regarding the local transit system being a luxury.
At the January 13, 2023 council session, council discussed the transit system and how effective the on-demand service is.
At one point Cleveland stated, “we need to start also thinking about what is and isn’t essential services in this community, and I just want to think about it when it comes to adding more money to a system that’s a luxury at this time.”
Since that time he has received numerous comments and e-mails and sent a Letter to the Editor on January 23, 2023 hoping it explains to the public his reasoning.
I want to start this note by sending my apologies if I caused any stress or concern over the remarks that I made regarding our transit system. I’m hoping to shed a little bit more light into why I sparked the conversation writ large and also to reassure you that my goal was to start a conversation in the public domain, not unilaterally make big budget decisions. It is very important to me that I take the time to explain to you who I am and how I hope to serve the Cobourg community with honor, integrity and transparency.
I ran for office with the hope of making this community a better place for everyone. I am very aware that there is no way to do this job without making difficult and controversial decisions. I know this and feel very comfortable that it is a very critical part of the job ahead of us. I think we can agree that as a council, if we want to create the time, budget and staff resources, to launch new projects, to improve existing services and to expand needed and more forward-thinking services. To do this we will have to take a hard look at the services we are already funding and make some tough decisions. My number one priority to the people I have been elected to serve is to be open and transparent. This is the platform I ran with, and I have to believe this is what got me elected. In this vein, I thought it was important to signal to the Cobourg community about the importance of thinking critically about what services we are going to provide and what services we need to reduce or eliminate to move forward. That was the reason I said what I did, I wanted to start a public conversation, which I clearly have done.
I ran for this job because I believe we are at a turning point in this community, this province, and this country. No longer are people happy with political figures who keep saying and doing what is best for their political careers . I am happy to say I believe we have a council full of committed, talented, and wise people who are ready to tackle many of these difficult decisions along with me. It is my job as Mayor as a leader to look to my council and the community at large for advice on what decisions we need to start making, what priorities we are going to focus on, what we are going to stop doing and what we are going to change to allow us and the staff the opportunity to make significant the changes this community wants to see. I hope you will find that this is a team you can be proud of.
With all of this in mind, I do think that transit is one of the services we are going to have to start taking a hard look at (along with many others). I say this not because I don’t support public transit, quite the opposite, in a perfect world I would love to spend more on transit; I would love to see it become a free service in the town for a few years, to build ridership and then once the use is up, then start to charge fees. However, to do something meaningful, inspirational, forward thinking, and intentional like that then we as a council and we as a community need to decide what service we are no longer going to provide or what program takes the cut to provide the operational bandwidth and budget for this kind of change. We are just not there yet.
What I am trying to convey is that I am not advocating for the cancellation of Transit, nor for free transit; I am advocating for taking a long, hard look at how we are spending our budget and setting goals and priorities reflective of the community we serve. Personally, I believe 100% that transit is an essential service for many in the community. In time, I would like to see our public transit system flourish and grow when the timing and budget is right. I use the transit system – my older parents have ridden, and many staff and friends depend on it. Does the system as it exists today have issues that need to be fixed ? Yes, of course it does and no one is denying that. The fixed route system was plagued with problems that everyone complained about for years until the previous council decided to make a big change and take a chance to try something new. Now there are some very loud voices in the community that want to bring back the old system because the new one doesn’t serve them as well. There are always very loud voices when something doesn’t personally serve them as it once did. The reality is that we haven’t even given our staff 2 full years to work out all the issues. The previous decision was made at the end of a pandemic when all ridership was down. We have yet to see the program in full swing with a full contingent of drivers so we don’t even really know the potential of this system or service yet.
I, like you, think the on-demand is a god-send, that it is the future of transit, and that the previous council was courageous and forward thinking to choose this as a solution to the issues of the fixed routes. I can only assume that they went this way to avoid having to cancel a transit system that did not meet our communities expected green stewardship while also seeing its cost ballooning out of control year over year. The fact that there are those that do not like the change, who find the new service inconvenient and faulty and who want to go back to “the good old days” is not new or unexpected.
Xxxxxxxx there is a ‘silent majority’ issue in politics well known to many, forgotten by some. The reality is that all the people who are happy with a service don’t write letters or complain. Thank you for taking the time to share your concern over my comments but more importantly thank you for sharing that you love the service and are happy with how it works. Understanding all of this, my comment on transit being a luxury service has led to an inundation of letters like yours voicing with support of the service. Now we have a public discourse with both sides of the issue showing up! That’s music to my ears.
Xxxxxxxx, I ask that you please encourage your fellow transit riders who are happy with the service to do as you have. Hopefully if I along with other counselors can start to hear more from the silent majority on issues like this, if we continue to hear how well the service does work for so many then maybe we can all find the courage to say no to those who want to go backwards and we can find a way to work together communicating that change is inevitable, unavoidable and needs to be embraced because not changing isn’t an option in 2023. We need all members of the community to speak up more so that we aren’t always only hearing from loud vocal minority who want to complain about the issues they have as an individual. This is who I want to be as your Mayor Xxxxxx, the person who will force the difficult discussions in the public domain and listen to all of the voices in our community, not just the loudest.
Thank you for writing and providing me the opportunity to clarify my intentions.