County council expressed uncertainty over implementing a new transportation system Jan. 23 as it opted to push a decision to budget deliberations.
Council received a final report on a public transportation implementation plan from consultant IBI Group. The report details the methods and costs for the county to create a new public transportation system, which would primarily service Haliburton and Minden but also extend to Dorset and Wilberforce.
In a discussion after the report, Coun. Carol Moffatt said there are a lot of unknowns about proceeding with the project.
“This is a very big and serious topic and a financial hit as well,” she said. “We’d be committing to an unknown, in theory, to build on.”
The presentation from IBI Group highlighted the challenges a new transportation service will face, including an ageing demographic, a sparse population distributed over a large area and dispersed travel patterns which are difficult to service.
A booked, shared ride service was recommended by IBI Group, to be handled by a contractor. The proposed service would run six hours per day, six days per week in a core coverage area around Minden and Haliburton, and three hours per day into Dorset and Wilberforce through Gooderham.
IBI Group senior associate Chris Prentice said the service would have its limitations and require focus to be successful.
“Really got to focus on the area in which the greatest success will occur,” Prentice said. “You really want to walk before you run. You really want to make sure the service is going to be used first before you start adding to it.”
The cost for the county is about $162,000 over a full year of service. This assumes the province provides the maximum gas tax contribution toward the transportation project of $141,654 annually.
County director of planning Charsley White said getting that funding requires a long-term commitment, at least three to five years with an expectation the program would continue beyond that.
“I don’t hear from any member of council that we’re there or anywhere near there,” Warden Liz Danielsen said in reply.
Coun. Andrea Roberts said the county has to be aware the costs could be higher than presented.
“There are lots of variances,” she said. “We know the purpose is a service to the community and so there’s going to be a cost. But I think we need to acknowledge the cost would be much greater than what’s indicated today.”
Roberts also said the Dysart et al council would have to discuss its own DYMO bus should the transportation project go ahead. The implementation plan notes the bus could be repurposed for the new transportation system.
Council voted to receive the report for information.
Danielsen said council would have to look at the structure around the transportation task force and possibly forming a committee on the issue made up of council and the task force members.
“We may want to see how the overall budget stacks up against this and where our priorities are going to be for this year,” she said. “It may be this has to go on a little bit of a slower timeframe.”