Grey Highlands debating when to launch accessible transit service

·3 min read

The Grey Highlands is considering when to roll out its new transit services, which council approved in the 2022 budget.

Saugeen Mobility and Regional Transit (SMART), which provides door-to-door transit services across nine municipalities for people with mental and physical disabilities, offered Grey Highlands a one-year trial of its services for $24,000 last fall.

In the 2022 budget process, Grey Highlands council moved to fund the project through its federal gas tax reserve, but the municipality is yet to sign a contract and begin the service.

Following the one year trial, the municipality will have to pay for the service based on its usage should it choose to continue with SMART, which could prove to be more costly than the trial rate.

“[SMART] reported ... that West Grey would be contributing $80,000, I believe, for this year, so it’s a long way from the $24,000,” said Councillor Paul Allen in November 2021. “If we want to go ahead it could be substantially more of a contribution, but even at $80,000 it’s less than one per cent of our budget.“

“To me, it’s a small price to pay if people are going to use it.”

Members of the Seniors Advisory Committee discussed the best time to introduce SMART transit to the municipality at their Jan. 10 meeting, and the committee agreed that spring would be the ideal time to begin.

“If we start it right now then it'll renew in the first couple of weeks of 2023, and being an election year the budget probably won't be passed at that point,” Allen said. “This $24,000 for the first year could end up being 40, 50, $60,000 depending on how much it's used.”

“As much as I don't want to delay getting it going … we don't want an interruption next year.”

Committee member Stewart Halliday agreed with Allen, and suggested using the interim time to build awareness of the new service.

“If you start something you don't have and you haven't built awareness, then you're gonna have a couple of months of no take up on it,” Halliday said. “We [could] create some sort of timeline or program or information [package] that we send out via rural mail to all our citizens to make them aware.”

The committee made a recommendation that council implement a start date of May 1 for the new service, which will need to be decided upon by council at a later date.

SMART transit is fully equipped to transport people with physical and mental disabilities, and it picks passengers up at their location, similar to a taxi service.

The service is commonly used for medical appointments, but may be used for any type of travel need.

Services are offered Monday through Friday, with Saturday rides available if booked in advance.

Passengers pay a $2 service charge for rides and a rate of $0.55 per kilometre, with a minimum charge of $7.50 per ride for local services.

Charter-style trips, where vehicles are dedicated to a single passenger, begin at $22.

Passengers may have one attendant ride with them for free.

During a SMART presentation to council in 2021, council inquired about expanding the service to function as a transit for senior citizens and other residents.

SMART manager Roger Cook said that they do not currently offer this type of service, but that it could potentially offer conventional transit services to Grey Highlands in the future, given approval by its board of directors.

“SMART currently does not provide transportation based on age, transportation is based on ability. Otherwise healthy residents who are over 65 are, at this time, expected to use local taxis,” he said.

“SMART can certainly provide the service, it would just be a matter of the board of directors approving that expansion of the service. There are services like this in the province that provide service beginning at age 55.”

Greg McGrath-Goudie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca

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