BROCKVILLE, ONT. — A new public transit pilot project begins on Aug. 30 along the St. Lawrence Seaway and it’s all about connecting rural residents for work and play.
“We’ve wanted to bring regional transit to our area for a very long time and we’re making it happen as of the start of next week,” said Prescott mayor Brett Todd from the new bus stop at Brockville Smartcentres Friday morning.
“We’re calling it the River Route because it takes you up and down Highway 2 from Brockville all the way down to Cardinal with multiple stops at businesses, industrial sites, stores, helping people get their shopping done, visit their friends and neighbours and family and also get to jobs,” added Todd.
The two-hour loop stops at 11 stations throughout 4 municipalities: Brockville, Augusta, Prescott & Edwardsburg/Cardinal, with bus completing six routes per weekday from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The Eastern Ontario Leadership Council secured funding for the project through the Ministry of Labour, Skills and Trades, and Todd says it’s a use it or lose it pilot project.
“We need ridership; we need people to demonstrate that there is a real need and a desire to have a service like this in Leeds Grenville,” Todd said. “No one expects through the municipalities that this is going to be any sort of for profit venture but we also can’t lose our shirts on it as well.”
In a press release sent out on Tuesday from the town of Prescott, 54 South Grenville businesses were surveyed along the route, saying the River Route would benefit approximately 90 employees, with half of the businesses anticipating it will help in future recruitment endeavours.
The ministry provided more than $405,000 in funding for three pilot projects in Northumberland County, Renfrew County, and Leeds and Grenville, the first to launch.
MPP for Leeds-Grenville, Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes Steve Clark says ridership shouldn’t be an issue.
“It’s been a longstanding request in the riding to have an intra-community transit system,” Clark said. “I’m really encouraging people to take advantage of this pilot project and really it’s going to come down to numbers in the end.”
A media tour on Friday before the official launch made stops at the Invista plant in Maitland, downtown Prescott and at the Giant Tiger distribution centre in Johnstown.
Giant Tiger VP of operations, John Hubbard said the transit route couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We are an employer of choice in the area. We’re actively recruiting for many positions and this will hopefully even make us that much more successful by bringing in the communities and making it accessible from Brockville to Cardinal,” Hubbard said.
“We already know some of the staff have shown interest,” he added. “It’s great to see the township rally around and support businesses.”
Brockville Transit is supplying the bus for the route, with Coun. Larry Journal saying it will now be easier to get to the city.
“It’s a great pilot project. We have our own little ‘Go’ system as they do in Toronto and area,” Journal said. “(it’s) great for economic development, great for people who just don’t have the means to get from one municipality to the other, great for people who are working in different industries, in different municipalities not having to take their car.”
“I’m feeling very confidant that people will use it and it will be a great service,” journal said.
At the quick stop in Maitland, Augusta Township public works manager Brad Thake says he hopes to see lineups for the bus.
“If we have to put another bus in service because the route becomes popular, we’ll ask for it,” Thake said.
Chair of the Eastern Ontario Leadership Council and mayor of North Frontenac Ron Higgins was also on hand for the launch, saying this has taken four to five years to plan.
“There’s lots of different interests right now like costs of travel, costs of taxes, costs of driving your own car,” Higgins said. “Workforce is short on work so having the ability to commute between the municipalities is a huge deal.”
“This group is really excited to get their first launch going. They’ve already had some great response from the community once they heard what was going on, not just for work but for shoppers, doctors, appointments, stuff like that,” added Higgins.
“Rural transportation in general is very hard to do and very expensive so having new innovative ideas come up to provide this service is an awesome progress forward,” he added.
If the six-month pilot project is successful, the transit system could also connect into North Grenville and even Ottawa in the future, according to Todd.
“That’s the hope. I can’t really say plan yet because of course we’ve got to really find out just how viable this is, what the dollars and cents are at the end of it,” Todd said.
“There will be provincial transit dollars with the provincial portion of the gas tax for transit systems now so that will make this more palatable for us hopefully,” he added.
“It’s a game changer,” Todd said. “The United Counties are fantastic communities, but they are a lot of isolated islands in a lot of ways. And with people getting older and other issues, we’ve got to be able to find a way to integrate those communities and a good reliable, regular public transit route is, I think, going to be a huge thing for the whole area,” he added.
“If the ridership can support the wages and fuel and the insurance, I think that would be a successful pilot project,” said Edwardsburg/Cardinal mayor Pat Sayeau at the new Johnstown stop.
A ticket to ride costs $5 and the River Route officially launches on Monday, Aug. 30.
More information can be found on their website https://riverroute.ca/
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