The first year of a trial public transit service in Grey County has presented countless trials.
But Stephanie Stewart, Community Transportation Manager was upbeat when she updated Southgate council recently.
After all, the service from Dundalk to Orangeville has expanded to include weekends. Other routes were expanded over the year. Bike racks have been added to pick-up points.
And best of all is the return to normal life that including visits, shopping, in-person classes, appointments, meetings and people working at the office again.
All of those activities make up the need for public transit in rural areas that the Grey Transit Route was designed to help fill.
When restrictions lift futher, the vans will also be able to carry more people once again. Already they are able to accept cash, which according to a recent survey is the way most people want to pay.
There has been a lot of polling of the public, both to set routes in the first place, to gauge the success of the route, and recently to gather ideas about new stops.
Ms Stewart highlighted recent changes, the most significant of which is adding weekend service from Dundalk to Orangeville.
The Town of Shelburne agreed to take on the cost with the knowledge that this is the busiest of the Grey Transit Routes. Their council members also had heard from the community that lack of public transportation is a major issue for residents.
The program is also a pilot with the larger pilot that is Grey Transit Route itself. The Saturday and Sunday service will be available form July 10 to Dec. 12.
Other routes connect Owen Sound and the Town of Blue Mountains; Owen Sound to Wiarton to Sauble Beach; and Flesherton to Walkerton.
COVID protocols in place on the vans include masks, a limit of five passengers for distancing and pre-booking, online or by phone.
Bus fare is $5 for each route. Children five years old or younger ride for free.
When Ms Stewart presented to Southgate council recently, members suggested that perhaps the pricing could change by the length of the ride.
Other good news recently is that the province has extended the funding for the original weekday service until 2025.
The public response to the transit offering has risen and sagged through several openings and stay-at-home orders, council heard, as well as being affected by both work and college study pivoting to online.
The extended time will allow a better picture of the need, but there eventually will need to be a decision to be made at the municipal level about whether to take on the cost long-term.
Southgate’s addition of the Dundalk to Orangeville route, as a separate application tacked onto Grey County’s original application has brought the biggest response.
Among the reasons people have for riding, there are those who use it to commute, with the Dundalk to Orangeville route times being tied to the Go Bus schedules.
Others are using it to regain the independence to visit and attend events themselves., while some people use the route to commute to and from night shifts at Chapmans Ice Cream in Markdale.
Passengers told the Herald they are grateful for the opportunities they have now. Without public transit, the only alternative would be the cost of a cab ride, which is prohibitive at any time, and certainly not something to be used regularly.
M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Dundalk Herald