For many, getting around can be challenging… but it’s also an essential part of life. Municipal leaders who are able to find solutions to address that conundrum will find themselves in good stead to compete, regardless of their size. The example of Deseronto Transit — a system that now servess Prince Edward County — over the last decade is proof of that.
Vital services such as health care, employment, education and skills development, and shopping are more spread out than at any point in time and there’s a crunch on the people who need them to be able to find access. Rental units in close proximity to these services are priced high, especially in rural communities. At the same time, motor vehicle ownership is also a burden as insurance, maintenance, gas and licencing all come at a cost a percentage of the population can’t afford.
The province is studying commuter cycling as a way to counter the need for rural transportation, but weather, distance, and physical ability can make that solution less than ideal to get people to the places they need to be.
In Deseronto, a decade ago, community members realized they simply couldn’t offer the employment and services people needed to access within their own borders, yet they needed to keep a population base to support economic growth. They brainstormed a transit system that would take residents to other areas to allow them a chance to live there and prosper. It took some long nights, collaboration, and undoubtedly some hurt feelings and skepticism but the efforts worked. Soon other neighbouring municipalities saw the benefit and offered support to expand the system into their own areas.
The fact that the service offered 13,000 rides last year illustrates that people need rural public transit alternatives and they see the value in that proposition. The notion the service also helped users eliminate their own need to ride it is also a credible gain from this collaboration.
Investments in rural transit systems can also produce a number of big-picture benefits for society. With improved access to health care and food supplies, there may be less need for medical provisions down the road. With a larger population able to reach services, new growth or development outside of traditional areas makes sense. Provided with an alternative, bus transportation could also take people’s cars off the road, cutting down on the pollution they cause. Then, transit could offer solutions to unique challenges facing youth and senior populations — allowing communities to keep their young and adequately support their aging.
For all those reasons, it is important for rural municipalities to continue to take Deseronto’s lead by designing innovative transportation programs, like transit systems or ride-sharing initiatives that will fill in missing links. Thankfully the County has recognized this and is working on its own comprehensive plan.
It’s also important, however, that citizens know about these systems and feel there’s incentive and value in using their services. The more a rural transit system can reach those in different demographic groups and appeal to them, the more effective it will be as a community and economic driver.