What are we doing about transportation?

What are we doing? cover art

As touched on in previous columns, The Highlander is taking a deep dive into what we see as the top issues facing the community. I’ve already written about housing and poverty and this week I’ll complete what I’m calling the unholy trinity by focusing on transportation. 

Those three issues are so interconnected. It’s almost like a domino effect. Say we have someone who works a job in Haliburton village. 

They’re just getting by making minimum wage while renting the same one-bedroom apartment they’ve lived in for years. Suddenly, it’s 2022 and inflation kicks in, costs go up and that apartment is no longer affordable. Wanting to maintain their job and stay in the community, they find a place on a back road 20 minutes out of town. 

The issue? 

They don’t have a car. Why? Well, they work minimum wage… once living expenses are factored in, there’s not much left over.

So, what is our fictional friend to do? Outside of relying on family or friends for a ride, they wouldn’t have many options. So, maybe they quit their job. Maybe they leave the community. It’s a brutal cycle. This is where Haliburton County needs to step in

Public transportation has been an afterthought for far too long. Seen as more of a want than a need, I would say the opposite is now true. We need some form of public transit in the Highlands.

Now, that’s going to look a little different than it would in, say, Toronto. Or places like Peterborough or Lindsay. A traditional system where a single bus drives the same route repeatedly several times a day isn’t feasible here. So, we need to get a little creative.

When discussing this with County CAO Mike Rutter and Dysart et al mayor Andrea Roberts, they both indicated a call-for-service, ride-share program may be the way to go. We’ve seen organizations like Point in Time, Fleming CREW and SIRCH Community Services successfully launch pilot projects that incorporate aspects of those kinds of services.

The County has been setting aside $50,000 annually for its transportation fund. They now have around $250,000 – but no concrete plans to spend it. Talks have stagnated at the council level, with no real movement on a County-wide strategy since 2019. So, let’s look at what’s working elsewhere.

Perhaps we could emulate what Hastings County is doing. Anyone wanting a ride from places like Madoc or Marmora into Belleville need only sign into an app on their smart phone and book it. There’s a small cost, while monthly passes are also available. 

The County could tap into provincial gas tax funding to buy a vehicle and then take on the running costs. If the municipality doesn’t want to get involved in running its own program, maybe it could empower residents to start something. 

There are communities across Ontario where ride shares are operated by regular people and incentivized by the local government. If there’s someone driving from Cardiff into Minden every day, maybe they would be willing to have a few more people in their car if they knew the County would kick them a few bucks for fuel. 

Providing public transit in a community roughly the size of PEI is a challenge. We accept that. But instead of shrugging our shoulders, we need to start coming up with solutions to help move people around the County. Our small businesses are crying out for workers. Maybe things would be better if would-be employees could get there