Local transportation service expands to destinations outside of HRM

By Janice Christie, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
May 13 2020

SHEET HARBOUR – MusGo Rider Valley-Sheet Harbour Cooperative Ltd., has received a new licence which now includes coverage outside the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). “For people living in the rural communities - East Ship Harbour to Ecum Secum and the Musquodoboit Valley - we can now provide transportation to anywhere within Nova Scotia,” says Jessie Greenough, executive director for MusGo Rider, in an email interview with The Journal.

The licence means Eastern Shore residents can now rely on the service getting them to Truro, New Glasgow or anywhere outside HRM. This service is one of 19 rural transit services in Nova Scotia all belonging to the Rural Transportation Association.

MusGo Rider has been an asset to the community since its development as MusGo Rider Cooperative Ltd. in May 2013 when it had one van. Users have taken advantage of the service to get them to appointments, run errands, grocery shop and go to work.

Greenough says, “Some (customers) are regulars. We have one senior who goes twice a week to local grocery stores within Sheet Harbour and we have others who just use MusGo when they have to go to Halifax for a medical appointment. We’re there for anyone who needs to use us. We even take or pickup people from the airport. We will take people anywhere they need or want to go.

“We try to have programs in place for persons living in poverty. We just finished a poverty reduction grant that discounted medical trips by 75 per cent and all other trips by 50 per cent. This was for any household with an annual income below $34,000, which is most of our clientele,” says Greenough.

MusGo Rider was incorporated January 14, 2016. The original MusGo was started by Musquodoboit Harbour community leader Laurie Cook, and community advocate, Colin Cameron in February 2012. They applied for funding to the NSTRIP program to complete a feasibility study which led to a business plan. An implementation and pilot project followed, leading to rural transit service.

Greenough, a chartered professional accountant was asked by the Board of MusGo in 2013 to look at the finances and prepare financial statements. Greenough was later offered the position of executive director. “In 2015 a group from Musquodoboit Valley contacted me to work on a feasibility study with the consultant they had hired, Jamie Stewart, Four Points Management Consulting, to bring rural transit to the Musquodoboit Valley and the communities around Sheet Harbour,” says Greenough. “MusGo Rider was identified in the feasibility study as the best option to operate rural transit in these areas.”

Greenough describes the six full-time and two part-time employees as a “wonderful team of people.” She says, “The drivers are all special people who are very empathetic. I believe in training. They all have a two-day mental health first aid course, the two-day non-violent crisis intervention course, CPR first aid, Alzheimer awareness training and I am also looking for new training opportunities that apply.”

Greenough identifies the main challenge as “funding.” There is a total of six vehicles in operation. Four of the vehicles are wheelchair accessible and two are available for the Sheet Harbour area.

“Another challenge is getting the word out to the people who can use our service; how user-friendly we are. There is no application, people just phone our dispatcher at 902-483-7433 and make an appointment.”

MusGo Rider successes that Greenough recounts include “…the local unemployed fellow down on his luck who we were able to provide transportation to in order for him to secure employment until he was able to purchase a vehicle. Or, the senior lady whose husband was just admitted to a senior home. She has never driven in her life and was not about to get a license at 83 years of age. She discovers us and finds out from talking to our dispatcher that we can take her to get groceries, go to the doctors, visit her husband and sister. She breaks down crying on the phone because she is so relieved that she can still live at home and survive.”

The dispatcher is usually busy on the phone with patrons in Sheet Harbour says Greenough, adding that it is the area that uses the MusGo Rider service most frequently.

Most users find MusGo Rider affordable, but the service is still beyond the budget of some would-be patrons. “We try to have programs in place. I am writing grants all the time,” says Greenough. “Right now, we have a Community Links grant that allows for free transportation for medical and local grocery stores and subsidies for outside community necessary trips.”

The organization will continue to look for ways to make public transportation available to all. Current rates are available on the webpage www.musgorider.com or on the MusGo Rider Facebook page.

MusGo Rider Valley-Sheet Harbour Cooperative Ltd. is managed from an office in Porters Lake. Dispatch hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday. Users are required to call a day ahead to make appointments.