People rally to save transit terminal

By Denis Langlois, Sun Times, Owen Sound

Monday, September 30, 2013 4:38:24 EDT PM

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John McLoughlin said he’s been flying an Owen Sound flag outside of his home for 20 years.

He returned it to city hall Monday as a way, he said, of expressing his disappointment with council’s decision to shutter the city’s bus terminal.

The depot on 3rd Ave. E., which the city was to close for good at 6:30 p.m. Monday, is a symbol of the city’s “concern for the less fortunate,” he said, including the poor and people with disabilities who rely on public transit to get around and use the terminal for its washrooms or to seek shelter.

“The appearance, at least, is that no one cares,” he said Monday afternoon during a rally at the terminal. “That’s what annoys me.”

About 100 people attended the “Don’t Kill the Terminal” protest, organized by the United Way of Bruce Grey.

Executive director Francesca Dobbyn said she hopes the event will send a message to council that people are not happy with the decision to close the terminal.

“This place is a resource. It’s a washroom. This building is warm when it’s cold outside and is cool when it’s hot outside,” she told the crowd.

Janice Currie, chairwoman of the city’s accessibility advisory committee, said the terminal houses one of the only two accessible public washrooms in the downtown. The other is at the Owen Sound Farmer’s Market.

It is also a place where people, including those with mental or physical disabilities, can receive assistance with navigating the transit system, she said.

“It’s a safe place and a valued resource,” she said.

City council decided in June to close the terminal as a way to reduce the ballooning cost of the transit system. The move is expected to save the city about $90,000 a year. It was also seen as a way to move from a four-route system to one with three routes, which, according to city staff, will cut the system’s cost by another $130,000 to $150,000 a year.

Even though the building will be locked, the terminal property will continue to be used as a transfer point and bus stop until this spring when the new three-route model is implemented.

City council has been told that it would cost about $9,600 a month to keep the terminal open and staffed by one city employee from Oct. 1 to March 31. It would cost about $4,500 a month to keep it open without a staff person there, but neither city staff nor Owen Sound police are not recommending that option.

Coun. Peter Lemon said he will try to bring back up for discussion Oct. 7 a staff report that includes those cost estimates in hopes council will vote to reverse its decision to close the terminal. Council voted 5-4 Sept. 23 to only “note and file” the report.

Supporters of the terminal are also being encouraged to attend that council meeting.

Dobbyn has said she would like the depot to remain open at least over winter to provide time for a “community conversation” about what to do after it closes.

Kim Bolyea, who carried a sign at the rally that read “Honk to keep bus station open,” said she uses public transit almost everyday and the central terminal is vital.

“You don’t want to be stuck out in the cold waiting for another bus,” she said.

John Christie, a former city councillor who worked as a bus driver from 1985 to 2003, said the terminal is also important to drivers who must adhere to a tight schedule.

“Now it’s like they’re going to take away their chance to, in three or four minutes, use the facilities or have a coffee,” he said.

Don Campbell, a musician from Toronto, said he was shocked to learn the Owen Sound terminal is going to close. He arrived there Monday afternoon on a Greyhound bus so he could play a gig at The River Cafe.

He said he might change his mind about coming here if there is no terminal at the end of his bus route.

“If this isn’t here, what am I supposed to do? Stand outside in the rain with my guitar and luggage in the rain,” he said during the protest.

About 300,000 passengers each year use Owen Sound Transit, according to city hall. The cost of the system was expected to reach $1.2 million this year, about $500,000 more than was budgeted. A main chunk of the increase was attributed to the cost to repair the city’s current fleet of buses.

Changes approved by council, including contracting First Student Canada to both operate the system and use its buses and moving to a three-route system, are expected to reduce the annual cost of the system to $648,000. Council also voted to hike bus fares by 10% in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and end Saturday service 90 minutes earlier.

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