Much has been made recently about inter-community transit links. The province is talking about the need to establish public transit links between rural communities, Grey County has inter-community transit on their radar,
and Meaford's municipal staff had signalled a desire to explore the possibility of establishing public transit links between the neighbouring communities of Owen Sound to the west and The Blue Mountains to the east, but that proposal (simply to explore the idea) was quashed by council.
Prior to council giving the axe to the proposal to study the possibility of an inter-community transit link, the president of Meaford's Chamber of Commerce made a short deputation to council in which he indicated that local business people did not support the idea because it would hurt Meaford businesses – but would it?
In the weeks since, I've heard several opinions on the topic, most of which express a desire to protect Meaford businesses, and I completely understand that desire, though I think there are some other things to consider, not the least of which is the fact that we're talking about a small percentage of the municipality that would use the service, and that small percentage of Meaford residents for the most part have limited resources to begin with, so really, how much business would they take away from Meaford businesses?
To residents and business owners concerned about the horror that would be a 14 passenger bus transporting people from this community, people who either don't own or aren't able to drive a car of their own, to Owen Sound or The Blue Mountains, where they might spend some of their money, I would ask where your brand new Honda came from? Or your new off-the-lot Lexus? I haven't found those dealerships in town. Or what about that nice tie you're wearing? I can't find a tie in this town – you must know something I don't.
People with means leave this municipality every day to spend money elsewhere. People with vehicles aren't restricted to only shopping in this municipality – but shopping aside, I would also ask local business owners, and residents who are opposed to the idea a regional transit link – when you need to head to the Owen Sound hospital for a CT scan, or an ultrasound, or any other specialized medical test, how do you get there? And how is someone on disability, or an old age pension with no vehicle supposed to get there? Oh, right, they are supposed to beg for a ride from a friend.
There are reasons other than shopping that create the need to leave your own community every now and then, and if you don't have your own transportation, that poses a challenge.
What if you had to go to a funeral? Let's say your mother died. You're on a disability pension, so your aunt sent you the money to get a suit, but you have no vehicle – why shouldn't you be able to hop on a regional transit link in order to travel to a larger centre where you can buy a suit? I don't know about you, but in the 11 years I've lived in Meaford, I have yet to find a suit shop, so shopping out of town is the only option.
I know, that's an over the top, extreme scenario to use, but every day lives are filled with over the top, extreme circumstances whether you have means or not.
Should we also shut down access to the internet in Meaford in order to prevent people from shopping out of town? Or is it just those with lesser means that are required to be trapped within the borders of this municipality?
I think there is another way of looking at the issue – we could look at it as an opportunity: a regional transit link wouldn't be a one way train – there are people living in Collingwood or Owen Sound who have limited resources, or who don't own vehicles who might very well like the opportunity to escape the busy, crowded urban environment that they live in every day and instead stroll some downtown Meaford shops, or to spend some time along our beautiful waterfront. Imagine marketing Meaford businesses to that demographic? I bet people would come.
People who own cars choose to drive to Meaford to take in what this municipality has to offer – everyone loves a day trip, an escape from the daily routine, why would people of limited resources in nearby municipalities be any different?
Recently when I was in Wasaga Beach I saw the Collingwood-Wasaga bus drive by. It's the same size bus as what Meaford is using for our new in town public transit route, though it had a rack on the front which at the time was carrying a bicycle. The bus stopped right in front of where I was parked at a plaza, and the bike owner got off the bus, retrieved his bicycle, and started heading toward where I was standing.
Since he was virtually beside me (and being the nosey reporter that I am), I asked the man where he had come from, and he told me Collingwood. I asked him how he enjoyed the service provided by that inter-community transit link, and he told me he loves it because though he has a job (he said he's an engineer), he has a medical issue that prevents him from driving a car, and the bus out of town allows him to take his bike, and get away to a different community with different sights and sounds – you know, like those of us with cars do all the time without even thinking about it.
“Sometimes you just need to escape” he told me. I shared with him some of the discussion that has been taking place in Meaford with regard to inter-community pubic transit, and I asked him if he would also take advantage of a link from Collingwood to Meaford.
His eyes lit up. “Definitely!” he beamed, “I haven't been able to go to the Leeky Canoe since I was told I could no longer drive.” He also told me that he would love to be able to bring his bike on a bus to Meaford and then explore the town as he used to do on weekends when he was still able to drive. “You guys have such a beautiful waterfront compared to Collingwood,” the man told me. “Is the fry shack still at the harbour?”
I asked him if he did much shopping when he used that bus to go to Wasaga. “Sometimes,” he said, “But it's a small bus with a dozen seats, it's not like you can do a week's worth of grocery shopping and carry it on the bus.”
Where do you do most of your shopping? I asked him. “In Collingwood of course. But getting out of town makes me feel human again, it makes me feel less disabled, if that makes any sense,” he explained. Yes, it certainly does make sense.
I bet there are many more like him, though if we continue to try and isolate ourselves, we might never know.
We can't try to protect our local businesses by isolating our community. Inter-community transit is coming one way or another. The province has said it is a priority, Grey County has said it's a priority – it will come. We in Meaford can be leaders, or we can be last-minute followers, or we could be skipped all together if we decide to throw up fences.