Penetanguishene council pushes for accessible transit solutions

·3 min read

Skyrocketing number of seniors and mobility issues for residents were the driving force behind council's push for staff to look for accessible transit options.

Those were the factors that made Coun. Brian Cummings turn down a staff recommendation for the town to leave accessible transit up to Community Reach North Simcoe, Wheels 4 Wheels and the Red Cross, three non-profits that already operate in the area.

"Most of the services are all moving further and further away from us," he said. "And these particular free services that are in the report are right now stretched and overwhelmed with the amount they have to transport. I think we should look at exploring possible cost sharing with Midland or the North Simcoe municipalities. Midland has four vans that I know is costing them a lot of money.

"I know it is not a money making venture, because $2.50 is the maximum we can charge," added Cummings. "However, I think our seniors deserve to be able to get around our municipality."

Coun. Debbie Levy backed her colleague.

"This issue isn't going away," she said. "The need is growing, particularly with low-income seniors who don't have a huge support system. I think we need to look further at the options, including a greater financial contribution to Community Reach or partnering with Midland."

Levy said she would like to see the town delve deeper into the issue to find a solution.

"Particularly right now, people's needs are definitely not being met," she said. "They still have to get to appointments. All of the groups that are providing transportation are bare bones right now because they rely on volunteer drivers who aren't necessarily driving during COVID. I think we need to take the opportunity serve our folks."

CAO Jeff Lees said the County of Simcoe is currently doing a service review of a number of services, including transit.

"The review will be completed in spring of 2022 and review the findings with the regional government review service delivery task force and council in May of 2022," he said. "If council's direction is to consult with neighbouring municipalities, I think we ought to also engage the county and see what role they might be able to play."

Cummings said that was well and good, but something much be done to alleviate the pressure on the three non-profits in the meanwhile.

"My worry is the existing services are overwhelmed at this point now," he said. "Our residents are really not getting the services at all. If we're going into a service delivery review, quite probably something in the meantime is to go into a cost sharing with Midland."

Levy also thought working with the neighbouring municipality was Penetang's best bet.

"First of all, reaching out to North Simcoe isn't going to work," she said. "Our transit committee knows they can't even come up with a transit system, let alone an accessible transit system. I think we can task our director to work with the folks in Midland and put together a report that we could see fairly early in the new year. In the meantime, we have to go with status quo because that's what we've got."

The recommendation was approved as status quo for the meeting with direction to staff to come back at a future meeting with more information from Midland.

Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,