County to fund transit plan
By Chad Ingram
Published Jan. 9, 2018
Haliburton County council has decided it will hire a consultant to complete a transportation project implementation study, but whether or not the municipality moves ahead with some sort of transit system will be a decision for the next council.
During their Dec. 13 meeting, councillors received a business case for a public transportation system, submitted by a local transportation task force.
That task force was formed during a transportation summit held in November of 2016.
The submission suggested two main options for a transportation system in Haliburton County.
One was a booked, shared ride service that would see some kind of shuttle picking up residents who book rides, operating five days a week with an estimated cost of about $192,000 a year.
The second was a blended model that would see a bus travelling a fixed route, with a booked, shared ride service bringing residents to pick-up locations of the fixed route.
Operating five days a week, the estimated cost for this service would be $315,000 per annum.
During a Jan. 4 council meeting, county planner Charlsey White told councillors that a new community transportation grant program from the Ministry of Transportation provides communities with grants of up to $500,000, over a five-year period. With an application deadline in February, a catch of the program is that municipalities must commit to a five-year project.
“The first year (or part) may be used to plan and create an implementation process for an intended service,” reads a report from White. “The remaining four years, where the implementation plan identifies that the service is viable, can be used to fund the start-up of the program, together with a municipal (county) commitment of financial support. Grant recipients are required to build sustainability into project development and will be required to report on a sustainability plan in the fourth year of the grant program. In addition, a successful transportation system will be required to collaborate with at least one community organization to be eligible to apply.”
The idea of a five-year commitment made councillors uneasy, especially since they felt there was not yet enough information on how some sort of transit system might be implemented.
“I’m a little cautious about this because I’m not sure we have enough information,” said Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen. Instead, Danielsen said she’d prefer to see the county pay for the creation of an implementation plan.
“I think we all share some of the same concerns,” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt. At the December meeting, councillors expressed logistical concerns about operating a system in a geographically large community with a sparse population, as well as those about financial sustainability and safety. It was also suggested that the municipalities of Algonquin Highlands and Highlands East would not benefit as much from such a program as Minden Hills and Dysart et al, which contain the county’s main communities.
Moffatt agreed with Danielsen that there was not yet enough information for the county to commit to a provincial program.
“I don’t see it as a fully formed enough plan to lock us in,” Moffatt said. She noted the conversation around public transportation is a long-standing and ongoing one in the community.
“I think we’ve come a long way,” Moffatt said. “You fund a plan, you don’t fund an idea.”
“I understand your hesitation,” said Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin, who’d said at the December meeting that it was time for county council to take some kind of action on public transportation. “Would you be willing to fund $50,000, for a plan, with a consultant?”
“Yes,” Moffatt replied. “To me, it’s not dissimilar to, dare I say it, the pool discussion,” she said, noting an indoor pool is also something many in the community clearly want.
“I’m not alone in having very serious concerns,” Moffatt said, reiterating that she cannot forge ahead with an idea, as opposed to a concrete plan.
Dysart et al Mayor Murray Fearrey agreed and said he could also support funding the creation of a plan.
“A part of me would like to jump in the deep end and go, but I understand the caution, said Devolin.
Councillors agreed that $50,000 would be added to the 2018 budget for the purpose. They also agreed that public education would be a key piece of the puzzle.
“Are we going to change people’s patterns?” asked Dysart Deputy Mayor Andrea Roberts, pointing out that those who don’t drive already have ways of getting about the community. “We need a certain level of users to make this even remotely viable.”
Moffatt agreed that the promotion of the system would be paramount, and the public needed to realize that any service would only last if it is being used.
“If people are not going to use it, then we take it away,” she said. “We can’t have a bus driving around like the ice cream truck, and flag it down.”
Fearrey noted that moving ahead with the creation of a plan would leave the decision about whether to proceed with a transit system for the next county council. Municipal elections in Ontario take place in October.
The county will also create a transit advisory committee.