Midland councillor pitches bus service to Tiny beaches

·4 min read

Midland and Penetanguishene residents wanting to use the bus to visit Georgian Bay beaches in Tiny Township might want to hold off packing a picnic basket until next year.

An interesting bend of procedural rules at the recent Midland council meeting allowed Coun. Sheldon East to bring forward a notice for motion, which was accidentally lost from the March meeting when a fellow council member fell ill causing the meeting to end abruptly.

“A couple of months ago, the transit committee asked for a report to be looked into for the possibility of extending bus service out to Balm Beach,” East explained to council. “Do we know where that is? It is kind of time sensitive to take advantage of it for Midland residents.”

With quorum of over two-thirds agreeing to discuss East’s proposal, the matter was addressed near the end of the meeting.

East offered that Saturday and Sunday bus services starting on the Victoria Day long weekend of May 26 this year could be extended until either Labour Day in September or Thanksgiving weekend in October, shuttling families to and from the Huronia Mall or downtown in Midland out to Balm Beach in Tiny Township. The proposal was unrefined, intentionally meant for input from council members and staff.

Operations director Dylan Flannery pointed out several issues that could arise from East’s proposition: Midland currently has no Sunday transit service; Saturday features 11-hour shifts for drivers who are primarily part-timers that are difficult to attract and retain; one and sometimes two of the town’s four buses is almost always in the shop for maintenance and repair; and transit negotiations are in progress with Penetanguishene which would make the transit committee’s introduction of additional services a complication.

Acting CAO Andy Campbell also added that crossing municipal boundaries with a bus between Midland and Tiny would require a provincial license that the town doesn’t have.

The comments didn’t deter East, who pressed that the 10-minute trip between the destinations wouldn’t be hard to accommodate, and that it wouldn’t be just families wanting to use the beach who would benefit but instead the people of both municipalities wanting to use the service.

However, members of staff and other councillors insisted that a report would be preferable than granting blind approval for the request.

Deputy Mayor Jack Contin noted that cost would be the biggest concern, with a need to look at statistics for ridership. Coun. Bill Meridis agreed, wanting an option on “the least amount of financial burden… to the residents” in the report.

Mayor Bill Gordon pointed out that what East was proposing was a service level enhancement and would be something better addressed during budget and pre-budget discussions.

However, Gordon shared that he had also been having the transit conversation with other municipal leaders while at the Elmvale Maple Syrup Festival, adding that there was interest in the possibility.

“While I was talking to the (Penetanguishene Mayor Doug Rawson),” said Gordon, “the service doesn’t necessarily have to terminate in Balm Beach either. There could be good reasons for it to leave the mall in Penetanguishene and head out the (Lafontaine) way; there’s some beautiful beaches out there that aren't as congested, and you can take that road right out. There’s a lot of different concessions you can stop at.

“We were also thinking that we can’t have a bus going down Tiny Beaches Road; it’s such a narrow road anyway with so many cottages and blind spots and it’s twisty and turny. The route would have to be thought out so that it’s direct and easy for buses to travel and not dump everyone at one location.”

Gordon agreed that cost-sharing would need to be addressed as Tiny’s benefit would be access to the towns, while the towns would gain from usage at Tiny’s beaches.

“There’s lots of time to talk about this; it probably wouldn’t happen this summer,” said Gordon. “What I heard from Tiny and Penetanguishene is that they’re willing to have the conversation. That’s half the battle right there so we’re not going in on this alone.”

Council directed staff to report back in a future meeting with a feasibility study for East’s request.

Council meetings are held on the first and third Wednesdays of each month, and can be viewed on Rogers TV cable channel 53, or through the livestream on the Rogers TV website. Archives of council meetings are available through Rogers TV and on the Town of Midland’s YouTube channel.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca