Grey looking for ways to improve rural transit

By Denis Langlois, Sun Times, Owen Sound

The Grey County administration building
Grey County has set the wheels in motion for a study it hopes will lead to an improved rural public transit system in the area.

A steering committee of senior Grey County staff, along with Toronto-based Lough Barnes Consulting Group, will spend the next several months on the project, which will involve creating an inventory of available transportation options, identifying service gaps in the region and coming up with recommendations on ways to create a more robust system, said social services director Barb Fedy.

“Basically, how do we take what currently exists and co-ordinate them?” she said in an interview.

Addressing rural transportation issues has been identified as one of the county’s strategic priorities.

County council set aside $50,000 in its 2014 budget for an initiative that “seeks to develop a long-term strategy for co-ordinating a rural transit system within Grey County that will support the needs of our community without creating additional burden on the county budget,” according to a Grey County news release.

Phase 1 of the project will focus on consulting with stakeholders, such as service providers, potential funders and The Grey Bruce Poverty Task Force’s transportation committee.

The consulting firm, which was retained following a request-for-proposal process, will develop maps of current transit services and gather information on their schedules and eligibility criteria.

Recommendations on potential ways to close transit service gaps in the region are to be presented to the county’s social services committee this fall.

Transportation, especially in rural communities like Grey-Bruce, is a significant challenge for people living in poverty.

Francesca Dobbyn, executive director of the United Way of Bruce Grey, told The Sun Times earlier this month that a lack of transportation is one of the single biggest barriers for people on low incomes to accessing supports in the community.

Participants of the recent Food Bank Summit in Owen Sound said some people are unable to access food banks because they do not have a way to get there.

Fedy said it can be a “huge challenge” for people living on Ontario Works, for example, to get to a grocery store or a medical appointment from their home in the country.

There are more than a dozen transit providers in Grey County, including Owen Sound Transit, Saugeen Mobility & Regional Transit and Home & Community Support Services of Grey Bruce. Grey County’s social services department also offers a van service for eligible people.

Fedy said the problem is the services are not co-ordinated.

“We will be looking at identifying options to build on what we have now to create a more robust system,” she said.

Transportation Action Group Agenda_3 February 2014

The Transportation Action Group brings together local transportation service providers, policy makers and agencies servicing clients together to discuss ways to advocate for more rural transportation to meet the demand and work with existing services. The agenda for the last meeting:  PTF Transportation Agenda 3 Feb 2014

Transportation Action Group Agenda and Minutes_26 Nov 2013

The Transportation Action Group held an initial meeting  of some Transportation Service Providers and South East Grey Community Health Centre representatives.

Key agenda items:

1. Examine coordinated services across Grey and Bruce Counties amongst service providers.

2. Draft support statement to MPP Bill Walker’s resolution calling for Committee to examine Public Transportation in Rural Ontario

The meeting examined existing services, potential areas for working together to create greater efficiency and identified who should be additionally invited to the table. See the full set of minutes:            Transportation Action Group_Minutes_26 Nov 2013

The group also generated some key recommendations that were incorporated into a letter to support to MPP Bill Walker’s motion. 

Bill Walker Resolution_support letter from BG Poverty Task Force

 

 

Rural Transportation Committee resolution passed_28 Nov 2013

November 28, 2013

The Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force submitted a letter of support to MPP Bill Walker’s office on a resolution to strike a Provincial Rural and Northern Ontario Transportation Committee. Bill Walker Resolution_support letter from BG Poverty Task Force The Committee would be all-party.

In the letter which Bill Walker quoted from in his presentation of the motion the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force stated: 

“We support a committee that will work towards the Government of Ontario 1) creating a vision for what public transportation in rural Ontario should look like in the future, 2) setting standards for public transportation across Ontario and 3) determining what strategies and priorities need to be in place to make the future happen.”

“Best practice studies and examples of other provincial initiatives, such as BC Transit, have demonstrated the benefits of an effective rural public transportation system to increase accessibility to essential services and employment; lead to lower commuting costs for residents and fostering the development of local and regional businesses.”

“We believe that an integrated public transportation solution connecting people and communities will lead to a better quality of life; and more sustainable future for Grey and Bruce County residents.”

All three parties  voted to pass the resolution on the first motion at Queen’s Park.

For video of the debate, go to: http://billwalkermpp.com/video/player.php?VideoID=88    

Walker is quoted as saying “All of us have a stake in taking a more active role in supporting our communities’ transit needs. This committee will be an important first step in achieving that goal, and I’m pleased that all three parties have just agreed to take that first step together.”

Walker said he received widespread support from municipalities, community groups and activists since tabling the resolution two weeks ago.

“There’s no doubt that transportation is an essential component to healthy communities, for youth retention and for our long-term sustainability,” he said. “I hear and see first-hand in my constituency how the lack of a transportation solution negatively impacts my people’s ability to complete the basic every-day tasks, from getting to work and doctors’ appointments to just visiting family and friends.”

Walker said the objective of the committee will be to discuss transportation challenges impacting regions north of the GTA, to come up with effective solutions and then to propose legislative action for those plans.

“To me, the future of the province lies in healthy communities, communities that put food on your table, and give you the mineral-rich Ring of Fire, provide the most in the gas tax funds…you cannot afford to let rural and Northern Ontario fizzle away nor to become non-existent,” he said. “We are the fuel that drives this province, and we will always play a key role in the health and vitality of Ontario.”