By Chad Ingram
Haliburton County councillors decided last week that they will continue to monitor trends in rural transportation and revisit the possibility of some kind of transit system for the county during their 2020 budget discussions.
Last year the county commissioned consulting firm IBI Group for $50000 to complete a transportation implementation plan for the community. That plan suggested the creation of a booked shared-ride service that would be contracted out to a private company. The firm estimated the annual cost of operating such a system would be approximately $300000.
During an April 24 meeting councillors discussed what they would do on the transit issue. Council included $50000 in the county’s 2019 budget for further work on transportation.
“However no tasks at this point have been assigned to that” said county planner Charlsey White.
Throughout conversations on transportation councillors have reiterated concerns about cost and the logistical challenges of operating a system for what is likely to be at least at first a relatively small group of users in a large community with a sparse population. It is estimated there would be approximately 3100 rides per year or approximately 10 per operating day.
The Haliburton Rideshare website essentially a carpooling database that was operated by the Rural Transportation Options committee recently came to an end as the volunteer members of RTO which has been making recommendations on transit in the community for the past decade take a step back from those activities.
“The Rideshare program had some success it was never a big winner” said Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt. The site had about 200 registered users and the RTO committee has its components archived should someone else wish to take over the operation of the website.
Moffatt wondered if maybe what had been the Rideshare website could live on the county’s website so that the people who have been using it could continue to use it.
There didn’t seem to be much appetite amongst councillors to undertake the booked shared-ride system that had been laid out in the implementation plan.
“My concern is basically who is going to captain the ship here?” said Highlands East Deputy Mayor Cec Ryall.
“For starters I would say there is no ship to captain at this point” said Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and Haliburton County Warden Liz Danielsen.
Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts pointed out the plan from the consulting firm had included the use of Dysart’s DYMO bus which had come as a surprise to Roberts and Dysart et al Deputy Mayor Pat Kennedy.
“The DYMO bus was integral to it” Roberts said. She and Kennedy said last week that Dysart would continue to operate the DYMO bus and that it would not be available for use in any kind of county system.
“To me I’ve said this from the outset a door-to-door service is the only way to go” Roberts said suggesting that most people who require public transit would not say walk across town in Haliburton village to get to a central pickup location. The cost of a door-to-door pickup service would likely be prohibitively expensive for the county.
Roberts said she thought an eventual solution to transportation would rely on technology.
“We know we called Uber they never called us back” she said.
The ridesharing app which allows people to essentially use their cars as cabs has partnered with the Town of Innisfil on a model where the municipality subsidizes a portion of ride costs. County councillors had been interested in exploring a similar type of partnership but never heard back from the company.
Roberts said she thought council should leave the $50000 in place for future transit work.
“I think we should park the money and wait for technology to catch up” she said.
“When you park something it’s parked” said Ryall adding in his mind that basically meant council was unlikely to do anything on transportation this year or even in this term and that that money could be better spent elsewhere.
“We have failed in some way to connect the dots in our previous conversations” said Moffatt adding “I think it’s important for us to keep this conversation going.”
“We’ve come way too far on the backs of a lot of really invested people” Moffatt said.
Minden Hills Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell sits on the Point in Time board the social services agency opening a new youth hub in Haliburton village.
“There is no transportation for youth and that is something they want us to keep on the table” Schell said.
In the end councillors agreed they would keep the $50000 allotted for transportation work “continue to monitor trends in rural transit” and revisit the conversation as part of 2020 budget discussions.