At their July 18 meeting, Meaford council gave final approval to an in-town public transit pilot project, however they rejected a proposal to explore the potential for public transit routes between Meaford and The Blue Mountains to the east, and Owen Sound to the west.
Members of council were unanimously in favour of developing an in-town, fixed route, one-year public transit pilot project which will utilize the under-used municipal Handi-van. The pilot project is expected to begin in August, and the per-ride fare will be $4.
A map of the proposed route was distributed at the council meeting (see photo) that shows a route beginning and ending at the Valu-mart plaza, with stops at the Beautiful Joe Off-Leash Park, Blue Dolphin pool, the Riverview apartments on Legion Road, Nelson Square, the Bumstead Medical Centre, the Meaford nursing home, the Meaford Hospital, and Nelson Square at the corner of Sykes and Nelson Streets.
Meaford Treasurer Darcy Chapman told The Independent that the route will be a 30-minute loop.
“We have tested this and it's about 25 to 26 minutes,” said Chapman.
While members of council were enthusiastic about moving forward with the plan, some members of council had reservations about exploring the potential for establishing public transit routes to communities outside the municipality.
“I truly believe that having a few people being delivered out of the urban centre of Meaford and directly placing them elsewhere is very contrary to what a lot of businesses spend a lot of money in advertising dollars doing,” said Councillor Tony Bell. “Local business want you to support them, and this would definitely put people right from downtown (Meaford) right into Owen Sound, or over into The Blue Mountains, and we're telling them to please go there on taxpayers' dollars. As a council we need to serve the majority of our people, and this does not serve the majority of our people.”
Councillor Bell suggested that if there were to be transit links between communities, it should be up to the County to study and fund, not municipalities.
Councillor Shirley Keaveney agreed with Bell's opposition to the proposed inter-community transit proposal.
“I also cannot support number four (the proposal for inter-community transit). I did a little bit of research since our last meeting as my major concern was getting folks who really need to attend appointments at the Owen Sound Hospital,” said Keaveney, adding that she had found several options available to Meaford residents needing transportation to the Owen Sound hospital. “I learned that there are some. I know that Community Living looks after their own folks, they have five vehicles and take their people to Owen Sound when needed, our own local outreach looks after their own folks as best they can, there are is the cancer drivers service, the resource centre at Victoria Village gets folks to Owen Sound for appointments if necessary, and even The Y employment services, I know they have taken folks over there for education courses and so on.”
The primary objection to the proposed study into the potential for inter-community transit expressed by councillors was the potential for negatively impacting Meaford businesses.
“I think that moving forward with moving folks out of town (by public transit) to shop would only put more of our businesses at risk, and we as councillors cannot look business people in our community in the eye knowing that we had supported that,” said Keaveney.
Council voted 6-0 (Mayor Barb Clumpus was absent from the meeting) against the proposal to study a potential public transit link between neighbouring communities.
Earlier this month Chapman told council that the Handi-van currently serves roughly 350 registered users. In 2015, the Handi-van accommodated 4,449 trips: of those, 107 were wheelchair users, 2,532 were for general mobility issues, and 1,790 were relating to the school board contract.
“The 2016 Handi-van annual operating budget was $95,750, with total operating revenues of approximately $22,500. The operating subsidy is provided partially through (provincial) Gas Tax funds with the majority provided by the Municipality, and in 2016 is expected to be approximately $67,250, or approximately $15.12 per passenger trip should the ridership remain similar to 2015,” noted Chapman in his July 4 report.
Nearly 95 percent of all trips in the Handi-van are within the urban core from the Valu-mart plaza in the east and the medical clinic in the west.
Chapman told council that expansion of the service within the municipality could help ease the frustration that urban area residents who don't drive are experiencing with the recent closure of the downtown Foodland grocery store.
Map of the proposed route for the public transit pilot project: