The County of Haliburton has decided not to proceed with a new, expansive transportation system this year.
Council opted not to include funding for the service in its 2019 budget. Instead, council put a $50,000 placeholder for further work on the file and directed staff to explore a request for proposals on the system.
Warden Liz Danielsen said although a lot of hard work has been put into transportation, council remains concerned.
“There remain some true unknowns and concerns about how it will work in a large geographic area with pockets of low transportation,” Danielsen said. “Given the unknowns and the need for sustainability in other areas, we could not move forward.”
Consultant IBI Group presented an implementation plan for a booked, shared ride service to council Jan. 23. The annual cost of the service was estimated at $162,000. However, that assumes the province provides the maximum gas tax contribution of $141,654, which would require the county to invest long-term in the system.
Coun. Andrea Roberts has said the actual costs of the system could be greater than projected.
“While we all appreciate the amount of work and volunteer work that’s gone into this project is enormous,” Roberts said at a Dysart council meeting. “There are just so many unknowns … it’s not a pilot project. You have to go all in and we just don’t fully understand the costs.”
IBI Group recommended a service to run primarily around Minden and Haliburton, with some trips in Dorset and Wilberforce through Gooderham.
Rural Transportation Options (RTO) member Lisa Tolentino said the advocacy group would not want the county to proceed with a transportation system if it would fail.
“I’m glad they decided not to go do something haphazardly. I know RTO wants to make sure what is done is done properly,” she said. “What we’re pleased about is another $50,000 has been put aside. That transportation is being kept on the agenda.”
Danielsen said no decision has been made on whether to continue funding the county’s transportation taskforce, whose term finishes March 31.
Tolentino, who also serves on the taskforce, said she hopes the $50,000 is put towards a group with local expertise to work towards answering the questions the county still has. She also said transportation has to be framed as an investment given how it acts as a barrier to things such as employment.
“There is a cost to not putting something on the road,” she said. “We can’t afford to not do it.”
“I feel the county council members have come a long way, as have all of us over the last 10 years,” Tolentino further said. “Booked, shared ride is a very viable option in the county and now we just need to fill in the gaps.”