City of Pembroke looking to bring in new public transit system

Electric buses could be coming to Pembroke’s Main Street.

The city has put out a survey to gauge public response to a potential new public transit system. The survey is available online and at Pembroke public libraries. Responses are being collected until the third week of September.

“There’s a real demand for transit in Pembroke,” says city councillor Brian Abdallah, who is leading the project for a new transit system. “The senior community want transit, the Ontario Works and the mental health services, and health agencies want transit, people on fixed income, a lot of people don’t have a car.”

Abdallah says his vision of a new transit system in Pembroke includes a small fleet of electric buses that run on a responsive, on-demand system, with buses being called to pick up points throughout the city via a smartphone, tablet, or phone call.

“It will be some sort of passenger van or shuttle bus that holds 18 to 22 people,” Abdallah tells CTV News. “It will be some form of a bus.”

One group in the community that has been desperately waiting for a transit system to arrive are the students at Pembroke’s Algonquin College campus.

“About 50 per cent of our student population at the Pembroke Campus comes from outside of Renfrew County, so about 500 students each year,” says Jamie Bramburger, the manager of community and student affairs. “What we’ve consistently heard from the student base is that it’s not so much of getting to the campus, but the convenience of things like groceries or entertainment. Trying to get to and from, even though it’s a small city, can still be a long walk.”

First year student Steve Allen came from Niagara to study at Algonquin College in Pembroke.

“It would be extremely helpful to have public transit,” says Allen, who admits he lives close enough to campus to walk, but would enjoy an easier method of getting around the city. “In one class of mine they started up a discord chat for ride sharing because it’s that needed for getting around.”

A brand new public transit system comes at a cost though. Abdallah says the city is working to secure additional government funding, but the survey also proposes a tax hike of $25 per year for residents.

“A 22 passenger electric bus costs around $850,000, the charging system is around $120,000 each,” says Abdallah. “So you can get government funding from the municipal fund, you can get ISIP. The only way transit will work in Pembroke is if we get sustainable, permanent government funding. We can’t do it on our own.”

One resident who would be happy to see his taxes go to a useful transit system is Peter Chaput.

“I think it would be very helpful and useful,” says Chaput who has lived in Pembroke his entire life. “For me, I’m on foot and that’s how I get around. It would be convenient, especially in the wintertime, to have warm transportation, for sure.”

“When I was a teenager, there was the Pembroke city bus,” recalls Chaput. “It had a steady route that would go from the east end mall to the west end mall and back again, and I know a lot of people appreciated it and used it. It’s too bad we don’t have something like that anymore.”

Abdallah hopes if consultations go smoothly, a pilot project with buses on Pembroke city streets will be up and running in a year to 18 months’ time.

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