Cash for rural transit may be en route

TROUT‘Communities can’t wait another year,’ Hendsbee says   

Those living without a car on the outskirts of Halifax Regional Municipality usually have to rely on their feet, a bicycle or the kindness of friends and strangers to get around.

And with the suggestion of an urban transit boundary in the regional plan, it is unlikely bus routes will pull into those rural communities any time soon.

Instead, Metro Transit has suggested rural communities come up with their own transit solutions, something the municipality may help pay for if council approves the funding scheme that went before the grants committee Monday.

That committee recommended council approve it, although some members say the community groups should have a say in what they are expected to do to qualify for a grant.

Coun. David Hendsbee (Preston-Chezzetcook-Eastern Shore) said he would want to see funding for community transit in this year’s budget.

“We in the rural communities can’t wait another year,” Hendsbee said.

MusGo Rider Co-op has been waiting for funding since its manager spoke to the transportation committee in May, he said.

In October, council approved a $10,000 grant for the community shuttle service, provided the group submitted a business plan and financial statements. Council also asked staff to draft the set of rules to judge community transit proposals, which MusGo Rider would have to meet as well.

Lucie Quigley said she has been frustrated at the lack of municipal support for the project. Essentially, the group had to apply three times for funding.

The province has given the group $130,000 since April 2010, which helped cover the business plan, startup costs and some early operating expenses.

The door-to-door shuttle has become Quigley’s passion project, growing steadily to about 20 to 25 one-way trips a month since it kicked off last October. It took nearly two years for the project to take off.

Initially, it charged $5 per one-way trip, but the rates are now based on distance, maxing out at $15 for a trip between 31 to 45 kilometres.

Public transit systems almost never make money; there are only a handful in the world that do.

More than 60 per cent of Metro Transit’s budget is subsidized, with the rest covered by fare and advertising revenue.

“It would be more cost-effective (to deliver) this type of operation (than traditional transit) in rural areas,” Quigley said. “It’s in service when it needs to be, and it’s not running routes empty. It’s a smaller vehicle, too, so it’s more environmentally sustainable.”

It is unclear how heavily the municipality would subsidize community transit groups because there is no mention of a maximum figure in the report.

Metro Transit’s manager of planning and scheduling said that was a purposeful move. Dave Reage said it makes more sense for each project group to ask the municipality for what it needs rather than set a ceiling. That may also encourage groups to look to the other levels of government for help, something they would need to do to qualify for municipal funding.

If council approves the funding rules for community transit in two weeks, Reage said he expected MusGo Rider would get an answer within a matter of days.

Author: Laura Fraser

Source: HeraldNews

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