By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Councillor Adam Bureau’s motion to add a single fixed-route bus in response to the on-demand system being plagued with driver shortages that have resulted in unsatisfactory levels of service for many residents was defeated Monday night.
Bureau said his motion was inspired by the many complaints he’d heard since last year from people who miss doctor’s appointments because they can’t get a bus and who got to the grocery store but were stranded when the ride they booked failed to show.
His own calculations indicate that the service is losing about 200 rides a day, 200 pick-ups that are desperately needed from a service that the town is supposed to be providing.
More drivers have been recruited in recent months, so Bureau’s motion would have supplemented what many see as an unreliable service with the single fixed-route bus until such time as newly purchased transit buses arrive. His motion would also provide for the availability of training and seminars on how to use the on-demand system.
Costs would have been covered from the Vehicle Reserve account in the 2023 Transit Operating Budget, and Director of Public Works Laurie Wills estimated the annual cost of this new system at $140,000-$150,000.
While Deputy Mayor Nicole Beatty saluted Bureau’s innovative solution to the problem, taking that money out of the reserves meant to cover the costs of future vehicle replacements concerned her.
“I agree we need to really build on our vehicle reserve – I 100% agree with that,” Bureau said.
“But right now we are in this position of not supplying a service the taxpayers paid for.”
Wills said that things are turning around for the service, and that ridership is up 34% from February to March. Pressed for specifics, however, she could not say how many riders that represents – she just had percentages.
Councillor Brian Darling said that providing an alternative will only make more people give up on on-demand. He called it “more of a disservice than a service. We have to promote these people to star using the transit that’s going to be the future.”
Citing seniors who had never become comfortable with the on-demand system, Wills agreed that providing an alternative could lead some riders to become dependent on the alternative.
Councillor Miriam Mutton is hearing from people who have just given up on even trying to use the town’s transit service, so she saw the alternative as a chance to recapture some of this ridership.
Council did pass Mayor Lucas Cleveland’s motion to expedite another project that might improve transportation options for citizens, the vehicles-for-hire ride-sharing option under the updated Taxi Licensing Bylaw that they hope to bring to council June 26.
Mutton admitted to doubting this would be a solution for a group she called “vulnerable persons”
“I really feel fundamentally, even though we are trying to provide a really good service, we are perhaps not acknowledging, as we should, the importance of vulnerable persons not wanting to be tracked,” she said, explaining that those using on-demand or a taxi service has to tell where they are going and, sometimes, provide their names.
Mutton put her concerns aside, however, to support Cleveland’s motion when it came to a vote.