WINDSOR, ONT. -- After a weekend flurry of calls and emails, Windsor council is backing a plan to deliver an express transit route from Windsor’s east end to St. Clair College.

When considering “Route 18,” the city wasn’t sure if it was financially responsible to implement the new route, even though it was recommended in the transit master plan. That’s because pandemic-related costs are spiralling out of control, with COVID-19 debt estimated at $38 million in 2021 alone. Current bus ridership is also down to just 15 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

But college students living on the city’s east end have a major hurdle in their commute to and from main campus.

“They can’t get here,” says the college’s spokesperson, John Fairley, adding it takes them two hours when transfers and waiting time are added to the equation.

Though they recognize the costs were tough to justify, Student Representative Council president Jorge Gutierrez and college president, Patti France, took to their phones.

“Everyone kind of played their role, talking to people and sending emails, old school, old school politics and city council,” recalls Fairley, noting the eleventh hour, weekend rush of phone calls to Councillor Fred Francis and Mayor Dilkens were purpose-driven.

“We have to be able to offer them transit. And when you hear the complaints about the transit system... It just wasn’t acceptable,” says Fairley.

What came from those calls was a compromise.

Council agreed to offer Route 18 as a pilot project — from September to December, 2021 — splitting the $180,000 added cost down the middle with the college.

The route will travel from Tecumseh Mall down the EC Row, with a stop at Devonshire Road, on route to the college.

“I really do hope they can make this a forever plan for the students and for the community in Windsor,” says Gutierrez.

While the success of the pilot will depend partly on ridership — it will also hinge on whether students at the college will adopt a universal “C-Pass” similar to the school-wide “U-Pass” recently accepted by students at the University of Windsor.

“The goal would be to cement the St. Clair College pass at that time, and if we have that commitment, then it should be seamless and not be an issue, it would just carry forward,” says mayor Dilkens.

It’s a conversation that will have to take place among the college student body sometime before the pilot project concludes.

“There’s nothing agreed just yet, but we’re happy to open and continue the conversation with them,” says Gutierrez.

Council will review ridership and the status of those “C-Pass” talks at the college when deciding whether to make this route permanent at a meeting of council in December.