County coun. Bob Carter’s wish for a bus between Minden and Haliburton has stalled – with the lone bidder for the job pitching a yearly cost of $685,344 on top of start-up costs of $45,000 and the County paying for gas.

Director of economic development and tourism, Scott Ovell, delivered the bad news to council at its May 22 meeting.

On Sept. 27 last year, Carter called for a request for proposals for a two-year pilot project. In December, staff outlined a draft for the service. The project was put out to tender in March, closing in April. Staff received a single, qualified response from BTS Network, a company with service in southern Ontario, including the Region of Peel, Niagara Transit Commission, and Fort Erie.

Ovell said their pitch was for a fixed route service with two vehicles operating in opposing directions, hourly, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week, excluding holidays. The firm identified six stops in each community and approximate pick-up and drop-off times.

Multiple vehicle options were given, with staff identifying an eight-passenger van with wheelchair access as their preferred choice.

BTS Network also provided alternate transit options, including a fixed route but with booked online stops, and a full on-demand service in the towns, but staff did not consider these options.

“Given the cost of the proposed transit service is significantly higher than the funds currently available in the transit reserve, staff are not recommending that council proceed with this project at this time,” Ovell said.

The County has $182,601.52 in its transit reserve. Gas tax funding is not available in first years of operations. Ovell said in year two, they could get up to $68,523 from the province. Year three could see up to $126,020.

“Staff are proposing to continue to gather information related to possible transit solutions and share them with council when available,” he added.

Carter said, “I cannot begin to express how disappointed I am in this, and for a number of different reasons.

“We’ve kicked this around for years and done little or nothing about it,” he said. Carter added he believes previous attempts failed as they were “idealistic” offering “everything for everybody.”

He said his request was for a “bare bones starting point. Get something started and see if we can make it grow. The idea was not to run a service that also included wheelchair access and all of the extras.” For example, he was envisioning one bus, not two. He said the extras had driven up the cost and there was no accounting for ridership fees.

He urged council to strike a committee “to look at how to make this happen.”

CAO Gary Dyke said he appreciated Carter’s comments and frustrations but “transit in rural areas is hard.” He added the RFP was approved by council and based on his experience he was not surprised at the cost.

He favoured a committee but said they should not dismiss the rideshare idea. “Other small, rural municipalities have invested in the rideshare program to great effect.” He cited Prince Edward County as an example. He didn’t think a single bus would work, and suggested accessibility was important for the area’s aging demographic and potential ridership. He said council has to establish a clear mandate before proceeding.

Carter said, “this is something that we incredibly need in this area. But I think we need to start right at the basics.”

Warden Liz Danielsen took exception to Carter commenting nothing had been done for years.

“There have been working groups established, there have been studies. We have funded small trials in efforts to try and see how this would work,” she said. She agreed to a working group, saying she could not accept a nearly $700,000 annual spend for a service for two of four townships.

Coun. Cec Ryall has sat on past transportation working groups and said, “the bad news is, every time something came out of it, it was too expensive.” He urged council to use information already gathered “so we have a place to start from as opposed to let’s go and reinvent the whole thing.”

Council voted to strike a transit working group and will discuss the matter again on June 12.