GUYSBOROUGH – It’s been a long road for the proponents of rural transit in Guysborough County, but the first leg of that journey is almost complete. In mid-to-late October, public transit will be a reality in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) and the Town of Mulgrave.
The project started with a consultation process in 2019 to determine what county residents identified as transit needs in their communities and price points they deemed affordable. Transit Association of Guysborough (TAG) President Catherine Hartling told The Journal that they worked to assess needs with surveys filled in by residents across Guysborough County.
“Some of them were paying $80 for someone to take them to doctor’s appointments,” Hartling said of the responses garnered from the surveys.
The consultations also asked residents about the cost they would be willing to pay for a public transit service, and incorporated that into the development of the fare schedule.
Hartling said of the service, “It’s going to be active, once we get going, because people are inquiring now.”
Since those early consultations, TAG formed an executive board and has been working closely with rural transit providers in the province to develop a model for Guysborough County. Madonna van Vonderen, executive director for Antigonish Transit, has been a key provider of information for the group.
Nancy O’Regan, TAG vice-president, said of van Vonderen’s support, “She knows the big picture about how it is funded, and how it all works provincially, and is supporting us figuring it out here.”
The biggest challenge, once it gets on the road, will be to ensure that customers understand how the service works, said O’Regan.
“This is not a taxi service,” she said, “you can’t call at 10 at night to get picked up from your neighbour’s party and get a drive home. It’s a booking service; it needs to be booked in advance, and it’s intended to be structured that way.
“It is going to be learning for all of us … We don’t know what the demand is, we don’t know what the need is going to look like, we don’t know what patterns will emerge and so we’re all going to use a lot of patience and understanding in this first year to learn what people need, and how we meet those needs.”
When the service does launch, it will provide public transit in MODG and Mulgrave. O’Regan said it is TAG’s intention, “That, a year from now, if all is going well and we’ve got a model that we feel okay about, we’ll expand into the District of St. Mary’s.”
When asked what benefits the transit service would bring to Guysborough County, O’Regan said, “I think it is going to add that layer of support that rural residents need, in terms of meeting their needs, but also insuring that we have the level of service here equitable to other regions of the province … It promotes social inclusion and keeps people living in their communities and not having to move to a nursing home or to Antigonish to be close to services … That ripple effect impacts all the other layers of service and care that we have in place.”
“It is worth noting that the federal government has also recently recognized the importance of transit in rural communities,” adds van Vonderen. “The province of Nova Scotia has also recognized the service that the rural transit provides to Nova Scotians. There is a lot of support there that is financial in some ways, but it is also definitely understood the impact that this can make in a community – keeping people in their own homes and giving them access to the services that they need is just cost effective in all kinds of ways.”
TAG Executive Director Brent Lundrigan said, in his last job coordinating a county-wide meals delivery program, that there were several people who would also ask “if I could take them places or to medical appointments.”
At that time, Lundrigan could see the need. He couldn’t offer the assistance requested, but he happily said, “Here I am now. It’s my duty now. At that time, there was no option for people that had transportation issues … that live in such rural areas.”
TAG has two vehicles: a Toyota Sienna hybrid and a 2020 Dodge Caravan adapted for accessibility purposes. The organization is also looking to hire casual drivers for the transit service.
TAG’s office is located at 46 Main Street, Guysborough. The organization can be contacted at email@example.com or by phone at 902-338-0959.
Once in operation, dispatch hours will be Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. In the coming weeks, TAG will have a website available under the ruralrides.ca umbrella website.