MANITOULIN – Many Islanders will soon be able to hop onto a bus to travel from community to community for shopping or medical appointments or, as COVID-19 protocols abate, to simply visit friends and family they haven’t seen for many months.
“Our service will resume on July 5,” confirmed United Manitoulin Islands Transit (UMIT) executive director Joahnna Berti. “We will maintain our regular schedule from Monday to Thursday.”
On Friday the UMIT bus will be connecting to South Baymouth, Tehkummah, Sandfield and Mindemoya, before returning to the depot in Little Current.
“This will close the loop for the east side of the Island,” said Ms. Berti. “We are hoping to capture new riders and possibly walk on or cyclist traffic from the ferry. We will begin charging fares in July with a rider fee of $6 per trip.”
According to Ms. Berti, UMIT has begun exploring the possibility of electrifying the service and transforming to an on-demand ride share system for the whole Island. “That is supported by the Blaise engine, which we tested in Wiikwemkoong during March and April. We will testing the Blaise engine in Gore Bay in July and August.”
Ms. Berti explained that the rideshare system will connect Kagawong and Gore Bay to the regular scheduled bus route and operates utilizing an artificial intelligence engine designed by the Blaise transit team in Montreal.
“When the system is fully operational, passengers will be able to book a ride using their computer or smart phone,” she said. “During the testing phase, passengers can book the ride online, utilizing their smart phone by downloading the Blaise app or by calling into the office.” UMIT will then enter the ride in the system. “We are hoping to have the system being fully functional by September 2021,” she said.
There are some great changes in the works for the future, noted Ms. Berti.
“We have been working with local climate change programs in Kagawong and Central Manitoulin and we have submitted letters of intent to the federal Ministry of the Environment to install electric charging stations and purchase four electric vehicles to service Manitoulin on a rideshare system supported by the Blaise app,” said Ms. Berti. “We will find out early this fall if we have been shortlisted for a full project proposal. If we have been successful, we would be ready to begin the process of electrification in early 2022. We are keeping our fingers crossed.”