In addressing the ongoing challenge of providing transportation in and around Gravenhurst, council received an update from the firm hired to undertake the transit task. The Town undertook a rural transit feasibility study in 2021, paid for by a $50,000 government grant, with the Toronto consulting firm Left Turn, Right Turn winning the contract. Presenters Pia Dimayuga and Matt Latavo attended the Jan. 17 Committee of the Whole meeting.
Dimayuga explained that the firm’s project objectives were to look at existing services and what capacity exists for growth, “to understand the travel demand needs of where people are going and where they can’t get to, and to look at what peers are doing, such as Bracebridge and to then come up with options.”
“What we have heard is that there are unmet transportation needs in the community and people feel that the current alternatives to driving are quite limited. We’ve heard about how expensive taxis can be in terms of getting from one end of town to the other, it can cost up to $100, if not more and that some of the District transportation services that exist such as the bus are not meeting needs and that low-cost options such as the Red Cross are tied to really specific users, they’re not open to everyone.”
Currently they are still in the ‘discovery’ phase of their study, meaning they are “analyzing and developing some conceptual options and hearing from folks here about what they think of those options.” Stakeholder groups have already been established, which included members of the public library, Ryde community co-op, the Chamber of Commerce, the school board and Muskoka and Gravenhurst staff. Two public engagement meetings were held on Feb. 1 to garner feedback and an online survey is currently open. Further public engagement meetings will be announced at a later date.
Dimayuga explained that “these limited options are really impacting people, their ability to get to appointments, pick up groceries, to access community programs and services that they really rely on, as well as social supports that help develop a sense of community.”
There is also a lot of travel across the district. Bracebridge specifically was identified as somewhere that people in Gravenhurst travel to frequently and “we want to make sure that that need is met.”
The firm analyzed demographics, “to see who would really benefit from these services, people who may not have options,” said Dimayuga . Based off a map showing where seniors and lower-income households were situated, they then created demand projections, showing where people are actually travelling to and where it’s expected people would be using transit. “It’s very focused on the urban part of Gravenhurst and along the highway,” she said.
At the conclusion of the presentation, Coun. Johnston commented that while on the campaign trail, a frequent concern was access to medical appointments in Bracebridge. He asked what the engagement was like on the district level and if there was anything a district councillor could take to them to help. Pia said that the district transportation co-ordinator had so far been very supportive.
Coun. Varney had questions on how much the cost of a ticket would be from Gravenhurst to Bracebridge, what the mode of transportation would be, “because we have tried this in the past and it was a school bus, not what you’d be expecting, with nothing on the side of it.”
Latavo replied that right now they are focused on the service itself but that the ticket cost within the urban core would be comparable to Bracebridge, Huntsville or Orillia. In terms of travel to rural hamlets, “one of the best examples as a basepoint is the work we did in North Grenville, where over 60% of their population actually lives outside of the urban core, it was a slightly higher cost, about a $5 or so per trip cost. Right now we are testing if that’s going to fit in a Gravenhurst context…we are trying to not swerve off of the beaten path as to what peers are offering.”
As for the type of transportation, he said they are still in the testing phase but that there would be “a bit of branding so that awareness is there.” He also said that they had been looking back at the previous pilot project and that “it didn’t look as dire for transit service in the town as some members thought.”
Coun. Cairns commented that of the two bus trials done previously, the first one wasn’t given the time that was needed for people to give input on where the bus stops were located. Also, there were sponsorship opportunities on the side of the Hammond bus, to help offset some of the costs. “I really think it takes time, if we say ‘oh there’s only one or two people riding, we should cancel it, I don’t think that’s really fair to the community.” She asked if they could give insight from other communities as to how long an appropriate trial should last.
Latavo explained that it does take time to change people’s mindsets, as many people in these types of communities are accustomed to having a family member or friend drive them and it takes time to change people’s habits, often up to two or three years but in order to estimate the fullest estimate of ridership with the impacts of covid-19, the outlook is now about five years,” he said. The firm will also be providing ridership estimates along with “trigger points” that might increase cost or necessitate modifications to service.
Director of Community Growth and Development Melissa Halford added that all options were on the table and that budget would still have to be taken into consideration, that these numbers were for information purposes only and not official.
Coun. Morphy asked about ‘last-kilometre’ problem, where “it’s the last two to five kilometres that is the kicker, someone can get to a stop where they can go to a Sobey’s or community centre but how do they get their groceries home in the last few kilometres?’
Latavo said that “the trend was making the service as demand-responsive as possible…whether that is some element of using a pool or a shared trip on a smaller bus or a larger bus that can go right to the front door of an IGA or to the end of a street of an individual’s home so they’re not walking the full distance, there’s a lot of different things we are testing. It is the most challenging aspect in the transit environment– how you deal with the first and last parts of the trip.”
For more information on the project and to participate in the survey, visit https://www.engagegravenhurst.ca/transit. The survey closes on Feb. 13.
The next Committee of the Whole meeting is on March 21 at 3:00 p.m. and can be viewed on the Town of Gravenhurst YouTube channel.
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