LITTLE CURRENT – The excitement was palpable at Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre in Little Current this past Monday morning as the United Manitoulin Islands Transit (UMIT) bus hit the road for the first time and paused for a brief celebration at the hotel after the first trip on its initial route.
“A lot of things we have here on Manitoulin Island only happen because people band together and put their attention in to get things going. This transit service does truly belong to everyone who lives here,” said Joahnna Berti, UMIT executive director, at the small gathering of some UMIT board members and executives to commemorate the first day of its wheels turning.
“After three years, it feels so good to finally have something to at least look at now,” said UMIT president Guy Dumas with a relieved laugh.
As reported in last week’s Expositor, passenger-supporting bus service is still on hold for the time being until the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) approves its bus stop locations. The vehicle arrived on Manitoulin last week and received its UMIT branding in preparation for its service launch.
UMIT board members expect the service to continue without passengers for the next week or two until approval comes through and the stops can be put up along the initial trial route from Mindemoya to Manitowaning via Little Current.
Fares will be free at the beginning of service to encourage people to try it out.
“People need to know that the way of getting more, better service is that we have to use what we have. Then we’ll have the passenger numbers we need to push for an increase in service, add more trips and hopefully cover more of the Island,” said Ms. Berti.
She acknowledged the volunteer board that has worked for three years to reach this point, as well as UMIT’s supporting agencies.
UMIT treasurer and marketing committee lead Valerie McIntyre was present at the soft launch and said the impacts of the transit service would be wide-reaching.
“The bus is a positive step to making healthier, more robust and connected communities on the Island,” she said.
Mr. Dumas said the operation is structured on an Austrian economic model as opposed to capitalism, where control is shifted away from the person who is in charge of the means of production and instead placed upon the consumers.
“A co-op model under Austrian economics works well; they’re compatible and also based on Indigenous physics. All of these are connected and related to each other and maybe that’s part of the reason why we didn’t give up on it,” he said, adding that the reason past Island transit projects have failed is because of their capitalist models.
Ms. Berti said the first trip was very pleasant and she encouraged Islanders and businesses to become members of the co-op to help shape the service to become more responsive to their needs.
The bus has a wheelchair lift at its rear and can accommodate two wheelchairs. There is seating for 14 plus a driver.
A fare box and a front-mount bicycle rack are the next two items that crews will install into the vehicle to get it road-ready. There is already space at the front to have hand sanitizer and masks.
The bus is kept in Little Current at the AJ Bus Lines facility.