Middlesex County is on the move, literally, with local politicians touring the region to promote a series of transit services launched last year to make hitching a ride easier in rural communities.
The county has nearly $1 million from Queen's Park to bolster public transit over two years, one of many grants for intercommunity and local transportation projects in Southwestern Ontario. It builds on similar funding from 2018 to 2023.
“When we launched it last September, we were hoping everyone would be so excited and would be using it, and then we went into lockdowns, and no one went anywhere,” Kelly Elliott, Thames Centre’s deputy mayor, said of the Middlesex County Connect bus service.
“Now that restrictions have lifted, we really want to encourage people to get on the bus and to use the transit systems.”
Recently, Elliott joined Thames Centre Mayor Alison Warwick and Middlesex County Warden Cathy Burghardt-Jesson for a day-long trip across county lines in the region.
The trio made their way from Dorchester to Tillsonburg using the town’s transit system – known as T:GO – and later to Simcoe through the Ride Norfolk shuttle service. With help from Ride the Bine, a transit company that does craft beer, wine and cider tours in Southwestern Ontario, the group wrapped up their day with wine tastings in Norfolk County.
The aim was to promote the micro-transit program and encourage riders to use the various services and routes available, Elliott said, highlighting the low-cost fares.
“For us to go from Dorchester to Simcoe, across three counties, our bus fares were $16,” she said. “It’s super reasonable.”
Kimberly Earls, executive director for the South Central Ontario Region Economic Development Corporation (SCOR EDC), welcomed the initiative, stating it will help promote the need for more accessible public transit in rural Ontario.
"Rural transit, right now, is so important," she said. "We have opportunities for the workforce, some great companies and businesses consistently looking to build jobs. One of the issues they're facing is getting employees there, and sometimes they have to search outside the region."
Expanding routes and offering additional bus times that work with people’s schedules are some ways to help close this gap, Earls said. She cited the robust transit systems in the GTA and London, noting rural communities “can't get to that point if they don't utilize what they have.”
With help from recent funding, Middlesex County is working with partners to launch a mobile app for riders to view routes and pay for bus fares online.
“Right now, everything's pretty manual. But we're hoping to make that easier,” Elliott said, adding fares can only be paid using exact cash on the bus or tickets bought at stores. “We're hoping to make that easier.”
For more information on transit routes, fares, and schedules in Southwestern Ontario, visit www.ride-sct.ca.
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press