Central Manitoulin agrees to apply for Community Transportation Grant

MINDEMOYA—Central Manitoulin council has voted in favour of supporting in principle to apply to the applying to the Ministry of Transportation  (MTO) Community Transportation Grant program on behalf of the United Manitoulin Transit (UMT) committee. The motion was approved by council at a meeting last week and follows on a recommendation made by the municipal roads committee earlier this month.

A Central Manitoulin council roads committee meeting on February 6 saw a presentation by management consultant Guy Dumas, chair of UMT. The group, which includes 15 service providers, is supported by the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCM), the Manitoulin Municipal Association (MMA) and the decision makers of Wiikwemkoong and seeks to fill transportation gaps on the Island.

Mr. Dumas informed council that the transportation challenges on Manitoulin have been documented by the provincial government since 1952. There were a number of attempts to try and find a solution, but nothing stuck. UMT has resolved to do something different and has had many discussions with the  Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC) which recently announced their launch of bus service for Manitoulin.

The day after the announcement, Deputy Minister Rob Campbell called Mr. Dumas to discuss his committee’s work. “ONTC at first, did not want to change anything about their plans,” Mr. Dumas said, but started to be a little more supportive of UMT after he stressed the necessity of working with Islanders and investigating exactly what the Island needed for transportation.

Mr. Dumas went on to say that a feasibility study, channeled through the March of Dimes, is in the works and is supported by 28 letters. He explained that UMT approached seven different companies with transit experience for assistance, three companies responded and a decision was made to go with consultant Wally Beck of Transit Consulting Company. Mr. Beck, who has associates within the MTO, would be responsible for filling out the grant application and preparing yearly and a yearend report for council if they do go forward with support for fixing the transportation problems.

After bringing council up to date on the progress made by UMT, Mr. Dumas spoke of the Provincial Transportation Grant Program, an initiative of the provincial government Ministry of Transportation (MTO). This is a five-year program providing $30 million in total funding to municipalities across the province to plan, implement and operate community transportation services in their communities. There are two levels of funding, a maximum grant of $500,000 in funding for local community transportation projects for a five-year period and a maximum grant of $1.5 million in total funding for long distance intercommunity bus services for a five-year period. Council is applying to both. The program aims to support the development and delivery of transportation service to communities that are not served or are underserved by public or private transportation systems because of their low populations and densities or due to decline in service once provided by a public or private carrier. 

Transportation, the MTO says, continues to be a key factor in the ability of Ontarians to access medical services, to reach jobs, education and training, to participate in the community and, in general, to achieve quality of life. A main focus is to improve transportation for seniors, persons with disabilities, youth, low income individuals and members of Indigenous communities.

Mr. Dumas stressed the importance of the grant program for the Island and informed council that the deadline for an application for the funding is February 28. He said that he had approached Burpee Mills council about the grant program, but after some consideration, this council decided that they didn’t, in fact, have the capacity, the staff needed, to go ahead with Mr. Dumas’ proposal and he then decided to approach Central Manitoulin council.

“UMT hates to see this go by,” Mr. Dumas stressed.

Mayor Stephens questioned Mr. Dumas about liability and other issues. “Who is making decisions” he asked. “Who is accountable for it? Would the municipality make the decisions? Or a group? We need to talk to the ministry about this. We are talking about pretty big bucks here.”

Other councillors also had questions. The MTO had noted in their report on the grant that the service makes use of existing transportation resources by sharing assets such as vehicles and drivers or by coordinating multiple local services.

“Then we can look into the school bus system for getting into this,” asked Derek Stephens to which Mr. Dumas replied, “yes.”

Councillor Linda Farquhar asked Mr. Dumas about his experience so far with the MTO. “They are determined to make this happen,” Mr. Dumas replied. “This has been approved by the ministry and it is good to go. I have their ear,” he had also added. “They have come to our meeting and they respect and acknowledge that we are the first ones to be involved in transit on the Island.”

Mr. Stephens also asked if this project was going to be feasible “cost-ways” for people.

“We are looking at 21 cents a kilometre as the crow flies,” Mr. Dumas explained. “So a fare from Little Current to M’Chigeeng would be $9, for example.”

Councillor Ted Taylor asked how many buses there would be per day and was told two, perhaps one around 10 am and another in the afternoon.

Mr. Dumas also told the committee that they are looking at restaurants and gas stations to be agency stops for the new system. “For example,” he said, Miller Tyme has been approached to be the agency here in Mindemoya.”

“What are you looking for today?” asked Roads Committee Chair Dale Scott.

“An agreement to proceed,” Mr. Dumas said. “The three-page application has to be done by February 28.”

Mr. Dumas said that he had a contact at Northern Development and Mines (NDM) on hand to answer any questions and CAO/Clerk Ruth Frawley said that she would talk with this person.

“We have approval in principle today that the municipality apply for the funding.”” said Mayor Stephens, “and will have our questions answered by Thursday,” which is when the next council meeting is scheduled.

“I think this is a great opportunity,” Mr. Stephens said. “I will make the proposal to take this to council.”