Sharing transportation success stories
|By Mark Arike - Staff Writer | Nov. 24, 2016
The wheels are turning to establish a transportation system in Haliburton County.
Transportation—and the lack thereof—has been a recurring theme for many years. But talk is turning to action through a pilot project funded by the Ministry of Transportation.
About 70 people recently attended the first Haliburton Highlands Transportation Summit at the Haliburton Legion. They brainstormed ideas and guest speakers shared success stories from their communities.
Community Care in Northumberland County operates two transportation services. One is available to adults who are aging, have special needs, or are recovering from injury or illness. The other offers transportation for residents in rural areas, in particular Cobourg and Port Hope. They receive rides to doctor’s appointments, meetings, shopping destinations and more.County council has invested $285,000 into the program since 2010.
“We felt this investment was important and strategic in sustaining growth in our vibrant communities,” said Gil Brocanier, mayor of Cobourg and warden of Northumberland County.
“The importance of this initiative from the outset was framed in the context of rural community transportation being a critical component to ensuring inclusion.”
Located in southeastern Ontario, the county is comprised of seven municipalities and more than 80,000 residents. In addition to municipal support, the program has received money from about 20 sources. The Ontario Trillium Foundation, for example, gave them a $90,000 grant to purchase a van.
“Without these partners and stakeholders, we wouldn’t exist,” said rural transportation coordinator Jessica Hoskin.
They have a fleet of seven vans, all of which have been purchased with grant funding.
Deseronto, a town with less than 2,000 people in Hastings County, has also been able to overcome its rural challenges to provide residents a transit system. The community lacks industry and many residents are poor and isolated, according to Susan Stolarchuk, administrator of Deseronto Transit. An average trip to access services in Belleville is 30 km—a $30-40 cab ride.
In 2002, an interagency group was formed to support residents with their needs. A survey was conducted and 35 per cent of respondents identified the lack of transportation as a barrier. In 2005, the mayor began attending the group’s meetings, and it wasn’t long after that the project took off. Findings from studies were used to obtain $225,000 in seed funding to launch a pilot transportation project.
At first, it was only available to Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program clients because it focused on employment, said Stolarchuk.
“We had to have 40 people obtaining and maintaining employment for 13 consecutive weeks. We ended up having 70 job placements and 30 people go off of assistance,” she said.
The next challenge was to ensure it would be a sustainable service. Council stepped up with financial assistance, and Stolarchuk got creative to secure provincial gas tax funds. With the support of Napanee and Tyendinaga, the program receives an average of $155-160,000 annually.
Since people from each township utilize the transit system, the total population of all three areas was calculated to determine the funding amount. It was only $17-18,000 when Deseronto stood on its own.
“Without the other municipalities, we wouldn’t have made it. We probably would have folded.”
Research, networking, municipal support and implementation were some of the keys to success for both projects in Northumberland and Deseronto.
Following the summit, a group of volunteers will form a transportation task force. It will be up to them to take the information that has been gathered and determine next steps.
“It’s hard to say what it [the system] will look like,” said Tina Jackson, transportation project coordinator, in an interview.
They will review a report and develop short, medium and long-term plans.
Jackson was pleased with the outcome of the summit.
“It was absolutely excellent,” she said. “We were completely pleased with the turnout, engagement and presentations.”
Since 2010, the Rural Transportation Options (RTO) committee has been “the driving force” behind several research projects concerning transportation. It has undertaken this project, which is one of 22 in the province to receive money from the two-year Community Transportation Pilot Grant Program.
It was given about $78,000 from the $2 million pot.
So far, a Rideshare program has been launched to connect residents in need of lifts with people willing to offer them. Rides are posted to a website and a toll-free phone number can be called for help using the site. A part-time system navigator was hired to help people find and access transportation options.
Lisa Tolentino, facilitator for the Ontario Community Transportation Network and member of the RTO committee, was also happy with the event but realizes challenges lie ahead.
“People are strapped,” said Tolentino, referring to both financial and time commitments. “I think the biggest challenge is going to be ensuring that people know that this is important and we’re going to be able to make something happen this time.”
Anyone interested in joining the task force should contact Jackson at 705-455-2665.
More information about the project is available at transportationhaliburtoncounty.ca.
MARK ARIKE is a reporter for The Highlander.