Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Province offers funding for transit consultations in St. Mary’s

  • September 29 2021
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    

ST. MARY’S – The Nova Scotia government would be willing to fund a key stage in the development of a comprehensive community transportation network in St. Mary’s, if local government gives the go-ahead, says the province’s Director of Active Transit and Community Transportation Gregory Sewell.

“If there was a desire to start off with the community consultation [stage], which is the right way to go, we would fund it,” he told the council’s committee of the whole at a recent meeting, adding that the project would hinge on working with the Nova Scotia Community Transportation Network to build a budget and find a delivery partner for the service.

“We could see what the budget would look like, then if the network agreed to make a funding request while we’re trying to identify a service partner, or develop one … I would find a way to get [that] request into our minister,” he said.

The offer comes just as a similar venture is expected to be operational by October in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough and Town of Mulgrave.

Last week, Transit Association of Guysborough (TAG) President Catherine Hartling told The Journal that surveys of area residents pointed to the need for affordable, reliable community transportation there.

“Some of them were paying $80 for someone to take them to doctor’s appointments,” she said. “It [the service] is going to be active, once we get going, because people are inquiring now.”

The Nova Scotia government is pushing this type of grassroots transportation service, especially for remote and rural areas of the province.

“When the province was developing their action plan for an aging population, transportation was a major issue, a barrier to seniors and their ability to participate in their communities, participate in their economy and have access to essential services, including health,” Sewell said during his presentation to St. Mary’s council.

“Our plan was launched in 2018, focusing on capacity and awareness, promoting a broad vision for community transportation, and improved the measurement, monitoring, and understanding of transportation projects,” he added, noting that the actual service model is “built by the community for the community.”

According to the Nova Scotia Community Transportation Network (NSCTN), a non-profit advocate that’s been around since 1996, 19 service providers operate in all but two counties of the province, and are supported in whole or in part by all three levels of governments and the communities they serve.

“Community-based transportation is public transportation based where you live,” its website says. “It’s the bus service around your town. It’s the van that comes to your door to take you to an appointment. It’s the car service that you can call to take you grocery shopping.

By advocating for more community-based transportation in rural Nova Scotia, NSCTN improves options for residents who need transportation to get to and from medical appointments, school or classes, recreation opportunities, visiting friends and shopping.”

Sewell said the approach in St. Mary’s would closely track Guysborough’s. There, he said, “In 2018, Common Good Solutions [a social enterprise consultant] was hired to do the community consultations. Their goal was to find out from citizens what their transportation needs were, where they typically would go, and what a fare structure would look like. [Common Good] was able to develop a business plan that presented options and different types of models.”

Guysborough’s model, he said, deploys TAG as the not-for-profit service provider, led by a community-based board of directors. “The province has committed to three years of funding for them to run a pilot project, and we’ll be monitoring their increase in ridership which will hopefully will get to the point of sustainability.”

St. Mary’s is the least densely populated area of Guysborough County which is, itself, the most sparsely populated region of the province. The median age in this part of Nova Scotia is close to 60.

St. Mary’s council agreed to consider the opportunity.

“I think it’s an interesting proposition,” Warden Greg Wier told Sewell. “We’ll probably be in contact at some point.”