Transit service takes first step back

Andy Walker
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Capital Beat column

For the first time since public transit was introduced to the capital city area, the service is about to take a large step backwards.

That is not to say the road has always been smooth. The privately owned transit company has struggled to find its financial footing and relies upon support from various levels of government.  Still, since 2007, the service has been launched to Cornwall and Stratford, a service linking Summerside and Charlottetown was established, and transit runs were established in Summerside. As well, a subsidiary company called Maritime Bus filled the void left with the departure of Acadian Lines with the establishment of a region-wide service.

By next June, Cornwall residents will no longer have the option of taking the same service they have now. Ridership within the town has been declining over the last few years, and the council and Trius Transit (which operates the service called T3 Transit) were trying to find solutions. One approach was adding new runs through the use of a smaller shuttle bus.

Cornwall council had verbally agreed to give that idea six months – they pulled the plug halfway through. They voted on the issue in the middle of a snowstorm, cutting down on the opportunity for public comment. As it was, two residents did brave the elements to voice their support for the service.

There is no question the $75,000 price tag is a major expense for a small community like Cornwall and that amount was projected to go to $155,000 next year due to some scheduled capital improvements. However, the town should have given residents the opportunity to become more informed on the issue before pulling the plug.

Mayor Barney Fullerton and several other councillors, who led the charge to end the service, seem to think this will lead to a better deal with the transit company. Ironically, the two councillors who voted against ending the contract (the vote was 4-2) see it as the end of transit, at least for the short term.

For its part, the company has indicated it is still hoping to provide some shuttle service from Cornwall to Charlottetown. However, it is yet unclear who will be picking up the tab. Without municipal support, the service would likely have to be operated on a user-pay basis, meaning the fare would rise considerably from the $2.25 charged across the capital system.

Both Charlottetown and Stratford have indicated they plan to continue the service. It is unrealistic to assume taxpayers in those two communities would subsidize Cornwall riders.   Right now, it is too soon to tell what the impact of Cornwall’s decision will be on the long-term future of the service. Certainly, if Cornwall was given better terms than its two partners, Charlottetown and Stratford would probably signal they want out of the deal too so they could get better terms as well.

Organizations: Maritime Bus, Cornwall council

Geographic location: Cornwall, Charlottetown, Summerside

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