Rural transportation requires funding, partnerships and support
By Angelica Ingram
Nov. 22, 2016
Transportation projects are possible in rural communities as long as they have government support, are created through partnerships and have the community in mind, the audience heard at the inaugural Haliburton Highlands Transportation Summit on Nov. 15 at the Haliburton Legion.
The day-long event drew participants from throughout Ontario, many who shared success stories of projects they have been involved with.
Commissioner of community services for the District of Muskoka Rick Williams spoke about Muskoka Extended Transit (MET), a program that involves a school bus that travels various routes throughout Muskoka.
Like Haliburton, Muskoka faces many demographic and economic challenges, said Williams.
“Muskoka, like most rural areas, has a growing number of seniors, disabled and poor individuals,” he said.
Williams said that in order for rural projects to work, municipalities need to be a part of the solution, pointing to the gas tax as a way to help fund transportation.
The MET operates eight routes, which are travelled once per week. It parallels the school year, which means it runs 40 weeks of the year.
It costs approximately $40,000 a year to run the bus, plus an additional $15,000 to $20,000 a year for marketing and co-ordination.
Williams said a reasonable goal would be to recover 50 per cent of the costs to be sustainable.
The idea that a transportation option would not be able to fully fund itself was echoed by other co-ordinators, who pointed to municipal funding as being necessary and a shift in how transportation is prioritized.
During a panel discussion, Brad Smith of Ride Norfolk said transportation services should be given the same priority as services such as pools, arenas and parks.
“This is a community service, just like any other,” said Smith.
In Deseronto, a community with a population of 1,835, many of the support services people need are 30 kilometres away in the city of Belleville.
Located within Hastings County, Deseronto does not have “a lot in town,” said Susan Stolarchuk, who spoke on the Deseronto Transit project.
To launch the transit project, $255,000 in seed funding was obtained and a committee was created, said Stolarchuk.
Partnerships with municipalities and agencies were formed and the project received municipal support.
The initiative also received a substantial amount of funding through the municipal gas tax portion, which grew from $18,000 to $105,000 by including the population of neighbouring community Napanee, said Stolarchuk.
“Without partnerships we would have not made it,” she said. “We would have folded.”
Stolarchuk said transportation is not something that will make money and as a result it has to be subsidized.
Since Deseronto Transit was launched it has greatly helped people get to vital services.
Representing a local project, Gena Robertson spoke on SIRCH’s Hop On, Hop Off Bus initiative that ran during the summer of 2015.
The project, which included a small bus, started out as a transportation project but evolved into a tourism feature for the community.
The summit included an afternoon of working groups and facilitated discussion.
Haliburton County Community Transportation Project co-ordinator Tina Jackson told the Echo that each group focused on developing a transportation system for Haliburton County and then identified what assets exist in the county to help support their system design as well as what additional resources would be needed.
“The notes from those groups as well as the large transportation system designs will be consolidated into a report over the next couple months for presentation to the Transportation Task Force, which will be formed over the coming weeks,” said Jackson in an email.