After nine years of trying to improve Haliburton’s public transportation options, Lisa Tolentino is ready to call it quits.
The longtime member of the advocacy group Rural Transportation Options (RTO), as well as the county Transportation Task Force, is stepping back from both. RTO itself is going on hiatus, with the future of the task force uncertain after reaching the end of its mandate March 31.
“I just don’t have the time, energy, or frankly the gumption anymore, given this is volunteer work,” Tolentino said.
The county opted not to proceed with an implementation plan for a transportation system made by consultant IBI Group this year. The county budgeted $50,000 to continue work on transportation in 2019 but has not allocated the funding to anything more specific.
“We’ve provided ample time for them to step up to the plate,” Tolentino said. “In order to continue, the municipality still has to play a key role.”
The task force discussed its future at an April 5 meeting. Councillors on the committee said they will discuss transportation at the April 24 council meeting, after which they will have a better idea of what happens next.
“We should discuss whether there will or will not be a task force,” county Coun. Cec Ryall said. “If there isn’t going to be a task force, is there going to be anything at all that’s going to guide this thing? Without
guidance, we’re just going to be a slow death.”
Minden Hills Coun. Pam Sayne said there is still a need and a desire for transportation.
“I don’t think the community, although they’re burnt out, has any less kind of feeling that this needs to continue,” Sayne said. “The question is, does the county have any appetite to support the administrative work that needs to be done to keep this afloat?”
New grant up for grabs
Task force co-chair Michael Andrews brought forward a grant opportunity should the county proceed.
Andrews said funding could be available through the Ontario Labour Market Partnerships program. It aims to address labour market issues, but Andrews said another jurisdiction has used it for transportation as a way to help address labour shortages.
“The idea here is to help mitigate the risk municipalities would have in terms of funding transportation projects,” Andrews said. “The envelope is for three years. It could be $300,000 or more, it could be less. It really depends on what we ask for.”
County Coun. Brent Devolin said committing to work on such a grant would have to wait until the April 24 meeting.
Rural Transportation Options winds down
RTO and task force member Heather Ross said RTO’s three members decided to stop meeting for now, and with that, will stop running the Haliburton Rideshare website.
“We do feel as a group we’ve probably done all that we can do,” Ross said.
However, Ross said the group will watch how transportation develops and step in if needed.
“Regardless of where this goes or doesn’t go, your efforts have been appreciated,” Devolin said.
Tolentino highlighted the county deciding not to apply for a five-year, $500,000 provincial grant for transportation in 2018 as a missed opportunity. At the time, the municipality was wary of the five-year commitment required.
Tolentino said it can be difficult for municipalities to see the tangible benefits of transportation.
“There seems to be fear about making a commitment but someone has to bite the bullet at some point,” she said. “I think they’ll get there eventually. I just can’t keep going.”