PERTH COUNTY – According to a report presented to Perth County council by Transportation Coordinator Maggie Martin on April 15, before the latest provincial stay-at-home order, PC Connect was experiencing significant growth in daily usage.
“We had a great month in March in terms of ridership with 158 riders on route A and 23 on route B which is a 110 per cent increase from February,” said. “On average the PC Connect ridership has increase 57 per cent each month since our launch date which is certainly positive considering the pandemic and the stay-at-home orders as well as the inability to actively market the service.”
Since November, PC Connect route A which operates in the northern end of the county and route B which operates in the south end, have serviced a total of 429 riders. The 50 per cent off fare promotion has come to an end and the full price is $6 for adults and $5 for seniors and students for routes A and B and the intercity routes to Waterloo, Kitchener and London are $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and students. Veterans, support persons and children five years old and under are free on all routes.
The service continues to operate within grant funding provided by the Government of Ontario. To date, the service has collected $4,974 in fare revenue, $1,576 of which was sold at 50 per cent off.
“PC Connect continues to operate responsibly during this provincial stay-at-home order to help our residents get to their essential needs,” said Martin. “These needs include employment, the grocery store, pharmacies as well as medical and social service appointments.”
Coun. Walter McKenzie asked if Martin had heard whether the provincial funding will be extended due to the COVID-19 situation.
“The way it’s going right now we’re probably going to run out of funding before we even get out of this,” he said.
Martin said they have not been notified of any extension to date but she said they are working with the MTO and other partners to advocate for an extension.
Warden James Aitcheson said the funding received originally is full funding for the first term they were allowed to operate the service in.
“There was an announcement from the federal government two or three weeks ago – of course no details were followed up on that – and that was $1.5 billion for rural transportation and it was strictly rural transportation,” he said.
Aitcheson has had discussions with Perth-Wellington MP John Nater and he expects information to come back to Perth County about how that will affect PC Connect.
“I know it’s definitely interesting times,” said Coun. Daryl Herlick. “People don’t know which way they are turning these days as things change. I know how we use the word ‘essential’ within transportation lately. We have to but essentially that’s why the system was put in place was for the needy and the less fortunate.”
He asked if the word ‘essential’ is scaring people and suggested just stating that capacity is 50 per cent reduced.
“People question what’s essential and what’s not,” said Herlick. “I really hope that isn’t hindering people… who do need things. People are so sensitive these days but I understand it’s a tough one. The wording may deter people who do need things I find. Maybe I’m wrong.”
“We received communication from the MTO that they want us to use that language and promote that message,” said Martin. “I understand your concerns so we are putting effort in to explain what those essential needs are because you are right a lot of our daily riders and our clientele are using it for essential needs.”
Although transportation services are permitted to operate, as usual, PC Connect is encouraging residents to use the service for essential travel only at this time. PC Connect’s COVID-19 preventative measures will continue to be enforced, which includes 50 per cent reduced capacity, mandatory face-coverings, hand sanitization stations, and increased sanitization practices.
Consultations to determine the feasibility, demand, and logistics required to modify the service to include the local Mass Vaccination Clinics continue.
Pending further information from the Huron Perth Public Health (HPPH), staff have initiated the bus stop agreements process, and are working with the service provider, Voyago, to confirm potential route timing and schedule changes, so that they are ready to execute as soon as possible.
Most marketing of the PC Connect has been put on hold due to the pandemic, except to emphasize the use of the service for essential travel only through organic messaging. Following the 4-week shutdown, the team will consult with HPPH to determine a safe and responsible timeline to resume paid marketing efforts.
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner