Grey County will create an accessible transit service early in January, parallel to its new, inter-municipal bus service, in some form.
Council gave its approval but some councillors raised concerns Thursday during a Grey County council meeting about possible needless duplication and suggested there may be a better way.
Grey County received $1.85 million from the Ontario Community Transportation Program to fund new inter-municipal bus routes until March 2023. Grey has contracted with Driverseat Owen Sound to run the Grey Transit Route (GTR) service.
The county transit service started Sept. 14 and now offers low-cost transportation along six routes to Owen Sound, Orangeville, Blue Mountains, Wiarton, Flesherton and Walkerton. Adult fares are $5 for all but the Wiarton run, which costs $3 per adult.
Provincial grants were used to establish similar transit services across Ontario.
The orange, 10-passenger GTR transit vans may not be able to accommodate all riders with disabilities, their attendants and others with them. So those riders are referred to one of three local specialized transit services offering door-to-door service.
In an interview, Grey chief administrative officer Kim Wingrove said such a referral system might be something that could continue. But as a long-term solution she was unsure if simply referring riders with disabilities to specialized transit services would meet the county’s legal obligations under accessibility legislation.
The new proposal would see riders with disabilities use regular routes but ride in vehicles that can accommodate their needs — vehicles belonging to a contracted special transit service on trips paid for by the county. A staff report said this would better align its GTR service with its Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act obligations.
Riders would still have to book rides. But it remains to be seen how many would prefer forgoing door-to-door service in favour of using arguably less convenient, preset GTR bus stops. Wingrove told county council she suspects it won’t be as popular but time will tell.
Grey County staff and Driverseat have been working with Home & Community Support Services of Grey-Bruce to provide the new service in early January.
The cost is unknown, county community transportation manager Stephanie Stewart told council, because it’s based on use, charged at both a per kilometre and per hour fee. She promised to monitor it closely and keep council informed.
She suggested an $80,000 cap, which Wingrove told council provincial funding would cover. The county’s long-term vision is to use fully accessible buses on its regular routes as demand warrants.
Southgate Deputy Mayor Brian Milne, who sits on the Saugeen Mobility and Regional Transit board and wondered how it might fit in, thanked staff for its work but he balked at the unknown costs. “I think everybody can agree that we’re rapidly going down a rabbit hole here.”
Chatsworth Mayor Scott Mackey said “it seems that we are creating a duplicate system now.” He noted four Grey municipalities are part of Saugeen Mobility and Regional Transit already and there are other specialty transit options.
He said the SMART board on which he also sits would be interested in hearing more about county specialized transit plans.
Stewart said she understood SMART declined to undertake the GTR’s specialized transit service but she agreed to pursue the matter personally.
SMART provides services for residents in the municipalities of Arran-Elderslie, Brockton, Chatsworth, Hanover, Huron-Kinloss, Kincardine, Saugeen Shores, Southgate and West Grey. Riders include those who cannot travel by conventional transit or taxi because physical or mental challenges make it difficult to do so, as well as their friends, family members and attendants.