MANITOULIN – United Manitoulin Islands Transit (UMIT) has just received its vehicle yesterday, July 14, and will be beginning next Monday, July 20 to travel its eastern Manitoulin trial routes without passengers to fine-tune its timings and stop locations as it waits for Ministry of Transportation (MTO) approval to install permanent bus stops after a last-minute ministry hiccup.
“I was chasing [MTO] down at the beginning of the week because we really needed to get our stops up (before the expected passenger-carrying launch of this past Monday, July 13), which is when I found out they had lost our file,” UMIT executive director Joahnna Berti told The Expositor this past Thursday.
The bus operator, AJ Bus Lines, has already received licencing to transport passengers and the co-op has a plan for its routes and tentative stops.
There was one remaining approval piece, however—working with MTO to determine safe locations for bus stops that would be accessible and appropriate for year-round use.
Following the late-breaking news, the transit group then had to re-apply for approval to erect bus stop signs. MTO has vowed to fast-track the process because of the delays it is causing to the co-op’s plans.
Ms. Berti said the lag may bring some benefits in that the MTO-approved stop locations will likely be the most appropriate stops for use in any time of year.
“It’s such a bizarre thing, but what it really highlights for us—because we’ve never had a transit co-operative here before—is every single one of these details is critical to make sure you’ve covered all the safety bases,” said Ms. Berti.
The transit group will use the time between its first run next week and when it can accept passengers to see how easy it is to manoeuvre the bus at various points along the route. It hopes to welcome passengers by early August.
“I know this summer is hardly representative of what our regular ridership will look like but we’re really optimistic that in the fall, when things get back to some version of normal, that’ll be a time when we’re really able to see our building of the ridership and people utilizing the service,” said Ms. Berti, adding that the group will be gathering feedback and optimizing the system to work best for the needs of its passengers.
The bus has been set up to maximize physical distancing of passengers; hand sanitizer and a limited number of disposable face masks are available on board but Ms. Berti strongly encouraged all future passengers to wear reusable face coverings.
Fortunately, said Ms. Berti, all the transit group’s local partners (including the Municipality of Central Manitoulin and other communities, Kenjgewin Teg, March of Dimes, web designer Brianna Marybelle, AJ Bus Lines and Beacon Images) have been very supportive.
“Everything has been a triumph of serendipity and things are falling into place,” she said.
UMIT is the latest attempt at creating a public transportation service for Manitoulin Island. While many other plans have been tried in past years, no other proposal has advanced as far as the present co-operative model. Proponents have been pushing to launch the service in earnest since late 2017.