Lisa Gervais: Setting us up for success, not failure
|By Lisa Gervais - Editor | February 1, 2018|
We don’t have a problem with county councillors being cautious about a rural transportation plan for Haliburton County. While it would be easy to chase down a Ministry of Transportation (MTO) grant of up to $500,000 over five years, it’s prudent to ensure that if a service gets off the ground here, it doesn’t come crashing down.
Up to $100,000-a-year in special grant money may be attractive, as is $144,000 in estimated provincial gas tax money after the first year, but we still wonder if it would be enough.
We remain doubtful that a plan can be offered for the $192,000-a-year being projected. At the end of the day, governments always subsidize transportation. It’s a bit like death and taxes when it comes to sure things. Ultimately, it comes down to how much county taxpayers are willing to subsidize this project.
We don’t have to look far to see how challenging the issue of rural transportation can be. Our much more populous neighbour to the south, the City of Kawartha Lakes (CKL), has really struggled with this one. It’s been trying to get something going since 2011, without success. CKL killed its latest pilot project in June 2015. Mayor Andy Letham said the decision was based on ridership numbers and the cost of providing the service –$420,000 annually – to run buses, advertise, signage and staffing. Earlier pilots also struggled to attract riders and meet provincial legislation for accessibility. One, launched in June, 2013, was funded through the Ontario Gas Tax program, which provided 96 municipalities with $325
million in 2014/15 to make it easier for people to use public transit by increasing accessibility, buying more transit vehicles, adding more routes, and extending hours of service. CKL got $590,645. Councillors, in making that June 2015 decision to scrap rural transit again, were told taxpayers would have to pay around $2 per $100,000 of assessment (in addition to Lindsay Transit taxes) to keep it going.
In Peterborough, meanwhile, it was confirmed last week that they’ll use the $1.7 million they got in gas tax revenue in December to fund a new Handi-Van for Peterborough Transit and more 20-minute services on routes.
Here, county council has decided not to chase the provincial government grant but is optimistic about gas tax money. They’re also pushing ahead with $50,000 for a consultant to develop a detailed implementation plan.
We think foregoing the provincial government grant isn’t a bad thing. Sure, the money would be nice but it would have locked us into a five-year-deal. And, if costs ultimately surpass $192,000 (which we think they will), that could mean county residents being out-of-pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars.
However, we’re not convinced spending $50,000 on a consultant is necessary. It could be argued that there is enough local expertise already. After all, Tina Jackson sits on the Rural Transporation Working Group. She and Mike Perry went to CKL in December with a whole new plan for rural transport there. Transportation task force chair Sue Shikaze can also be involved. And, while it’s tough in an election year to drill down on some of this stuff, county planner Charlsey White could work with Jackson and Shikaze – and other local transport experts interested in an ad hoc committee of council - on the detailed implementation plan - all at a fraction of the cost of what a consultant would charge.
We applaud council’s commitment to give this a try. After all, it’s been talked about for years. However, we encourage them to consider it as a one-year-pilot project to start. If it is a break-even service for our county, or at least a defendable subsidy, then it can continue. However, if there aren’t enough riders and it proves too
costly, then it can be ended without long-term financial pain for county residents. At least then the county can say it tried, and finally put the issue to rest.
But, of course, we hope it is a success story for so many in our county who are now struggling to get around because they don’t have vehicles, can’t afford vehicles, or don’t or can’t drive
Lisa Gervais is the editor for The Highlander.