Provincial transportation project includes Manitoulin

MANITOULIN ISLAND—While the United Manitoulin Transportation Group is still proceeding to a feasibility study to provide transportation across the Island (and filling current gaps in service), its focus has changed. This comes as the result of the province of Ontario having announced that it is expanding bus service across Northern Ontario and travel options in underserviced areas, including Manitoulin.

Guy Dumas, who is spearheading the local proposal, told the Recorder late last week that at a meeting with the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM), Ontario Northland Transportation Commission and Ministry of Transportation representatives, “we were told that as the province has announced it is expanding bus services across Northern Ontario, that they will be providing a bus service for Manitoulin Island on the main route, Highways 6 and Highway 540. At this point they haven’t determined how far west on the Island they will be going.”

“It is so important for us to continue on doing our feasibility study,” said Mr. Dumas. “Absolutely, we support their (province) proposal and definitely they are welcome at the table.” However, “because the  United Manitoulin Transportation Group has been working on our own proposal for a year, we have now shifted our focus to individual communities and their needs, like Wikwemikong, South Baymouth, Mindemoya, Little Current and the  communities and First Nations on the West End and throughout the Island and transit solution for each and finding ways to connect to the main bus being offered,” which he pointed out will be connecting to bus services provided out of Espanola.

Michael Gravelle, Minister of MNDM and Steven Del Duca, Minister of Transportation made the announcement December 1. The ONTC will increase bus service in the Northeast and will work in collaboration with existing private carriers to introduce service to communities in the Northwest. Improved service will provide vital links between communities that will help people living in Northern Ontario travel to medical and personal appointments, attend school, visit with friends and family and access other essential services.

Ontario is also launching a new Community Transportation Grant Program to help municipalities, Indigenous communities and other organizations through the province provide more travel options in areas that are not served, or underserved by public transit and intercommunity bus. The program will make it more convenient for seniors, students, persons living with disabilities and others to access essential services in their communities, connect with other transportation services and travel between cities and towns.

Cameron Ferguson, communications branch with the MNDM, would not confirm that any bus is in place for Manitoulin, at this time. He told the Recorder, “the ONTC is still working on new routes and improvements in service. And the ONTC working on other private carriers to provide services.”

Mr. Dumas said the meeting earlier this month with the provincial officials was to be a face to face meeting but due to inclement weather it ended up being a teleconference call. “That is when we outlined our original proposal and position on transportation services for the Island. I got the indication that the provincial bus service on the main highways is to be in place in February  and that there is an agreed upon route. We asked about a feasibility study, or gather ing input and information from stakeholders. I wanted to know how they determined how the bus to provide transportation on the Island highway route will be connected to the  existing service in Espanola, and where bus shelter locations will be established.” However, he pointed out, the provincial representatives did not indicate this is in place thus far.

“We noted we have received letters of support from the Manitoulin Municipal Association and United Chiefs and Councils of M’nidoo M’Nising to go out and have a feasibility study done and look for funding for this to establish the service,” said Mr. Dumas. “We want and welcome the bus service proposal (from the province),  but done in a more strategic manner, with input from municipalities, First Nations and members of the public. We agreed to continue to meet on this issue with the provincial representatives.”

With the news from the province, “we are still going to proceed with our feasibility study,” said Mr. Dumas. “The scope of  our feasibility study will change but we have now asked all those companies that tendered to complete this study to revise the study focus.”

Mr. Dumas also pointed out that as far as funding for the transportation feasibility study for Manitoulin, “through FedNor we’ve qualified through the first step phase, and are now on the second phase step for feasibility study funding. So things are looking positive.”