Take the brakes off public transit

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The County of Haliburton has recently committed $40,000 towards transportation pilot projects. As a story in today’s Highlander details, they are giving Point in Time $20,000 to help it get more youth to and from the Haliburton County Youth Wellness Hub in Haliburton.

 Point in Time executive director Marg Cox made the ask at a May 25 County council meeting. They have a fleet so the money will go towards wages and benefits for a driver. 

This follows a decision from an April 13 meeting, in which SIRCH made a similar ask for $20,000 for a pilot project involving it, City of Kawartha Lakes (CKL) Human Services and Fleming CREW.

 The money will help people get to and from SIRCH for training programs, and people on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Programs to meetings and appointments. The partners have already leased an eight-passenger van and hired a driver. 

Again, the money is for wages and benefits for a driver.

 First off, we applaud Point in Time and SIRCH and its partners for coming up with a creative solution to an identified problem. In the case of the youth hub, while the local school board has been generous with a late bus a couple of nights a week, it isn’t enough. 

So, they’ve gone out and purchased vehicles to transport their clients. Same with SIRCH. A lack of public transportation is a huge barrier to employment in Haliburton County. 

This is particularly true at a time when gas prices are averaging about $2 a litre. Further, people on low income in this County can’t afford to live in town centres so are on back roads many miles from town. 

Many can’t afford a vehicle, certainly not a taxi with fares in the $2.50 per kilometre range, and certainly not gas. 

The lack of public transportation was identified in the County’s recently-completed community safety and well-being plan. County CAO Mike Rutter has been very supportive of both pilot projects. 

He noted the County has about $200,000 in a transportation reserve as past councils had identified public transportation as a challenge, and need, but had been waiting for a model that would work in the County. He said they are continuing to investigate that. 

Other money could come from provincial Safe ReStart funds. First-year projects are not eligible for provincial gas tax funding but they are in second and subsequent years. It’s too bad it takes organizations such as SIRCH and Point in Time to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to our County’s public transportation woes.

Coun. Brent Devolin lamented that two terms of council have been unable to deliver some form of public transportation. He’s right and Rutter hopes the County is finally heading in the right direction by at least doing something.

He mentioned that he and director of economic development, Scott Ovell, met with a group piloting on-demand transit services based on sophisticated algorithms and technology that predict routes and demand. 

He thinks there’s potential to see a real evolution of transit in the County using all of this as a springboard. We can only hope so. It was only in 2019 that the County decided to wait and hope rather than do anything substantial on transportation. 

After the end of the transportation task force and the hiatus of the volunteer Rural Transportation Options, the County’s anticipated decision on transportation was to not make a decision. It opted to keep its $50,000 in budgeted funding parked. 

After years of consultations, meetings, efforts by volunteers and spending more than $46,000 on an implementation plan, the decision was lacklustre. 

Let’s hope these recent partnerships with SIRCH and Point in Time as well as staff talks with other transportation providers finally delivers a real solution to this County’s public transportation woes and that new councils sworn in in the fall finally take their feet off the brakes.