Where public transit, mathematics and butterflies meet: Service coming to MODG and Mulgrave

·4 min read

GUYSBOROUGH – Remember how you always thought you’d never use advanced mathematics in real life? You were wrong. If you want to understand one of the factors that’s holding up the launch of a new public transit system in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) and the Town of Mulgrave, you might need a passing familiarity with chaos theory; or have been paying attention to the Jurassic Park movie scene where Jeff Goldblum describes the butterfly effect to Laura Dern.

Simply put, the butterfly effect explains that a small change in one system can disproportionally effect change in other systems. In this case, it is the production of semiconductors and how that impacts rural Nova Scotians’ access to food, health care, employment and education.

Semiconductors are exactly what the name implies; a material that conducts currents but at the same time also acts as an insulator. What does this have to do with rural residents finally getting a public transit system? It means a lot.

A three-year pilot project is about to get off the ground in eastern Nova Scotia, providing a door-to-door, booked public transit service, once a few more details can be ironed out. One of those details is the procurement and delivery of accessible vehicles for the project, Greg Sewell, director of community transportation at the Department of Transportation and Active Transit, told The Journal in an interview May 6.

Since the pandemic hit North America hard in March of 2020, automakers reduced production and that has impacted their ability to ramp systems back up as markets show signs of recovery after the first and second waves of the pandemic. The problem is due to in large part to the supply of semiconductors. While the big automotive companies were taking a COVID-enforced hiatus, other industries – such as gaming and cryptocurrency mining – were vacuuming up the semiconductor supply.

When we talk about automobiles being run by computers these days, we’re talking about semiconductors. They’re part of many vehicle systems including power steering, catalytic converters, dashboard displays and air bags. Without semiconductors, modern vehicles can’t be manufactured.

And here is where the seemingly small butterfly flapping its wings in China or Taiwan, where most semiconductors are made, affects people in rural Nova Scotia. Here, it’s a matter of transportation – to a doctor’s appointment, a job, school or a trip to the grocery store. There just aren’t enough semiconductors to meet automotive manufacturing demand, leaving this underserved region to wait a little longer for public transit.

When the public transit service does arrive, it will be funded by monies from the province – the amount has yet to be determined – and revenue from clients. Sewell said, “Fares will vary by distance to some degree.”

In an area where many are known to live on low incomes, the service must fit within their limited budget to be accessible, a concern which Sewell addressed by stating, “We acknowledge that the cost of using a transit system can be a barrier for many people, especially for longer distance trips. Fare structure options are being developed for in county and out-of-county trips. We will continue to have internal discussions before we finalize the fare structure for the new service.”

Discussions about creating a public transit system in MODG have been held since 2017 and, in the intervening years, a major hurdle to moving forward was finding an operator for the system. On that matter, Sewell said, “We feel that we have identified an operator but at this point there is nothing finalized.”

MODG warden Vernon Pitts told The Journal, “The Municipality is not a funding partner, but it is our understanding the Province is providing funding for a three-year period which we hope it will be a good affordable option for our residents. It has to be affordable for our residents, and that means for all residents from Aulds Cove to Canso, from Canso to Country Harbour, from Country Harbour to Guysborough, from Guysborough to Upper Big Tracadie and all points in between. If it's not affordable, it won't work.”

Pitts added, “And it's not a core service for our Municipality so if the Province implements it for three years, it needs to be committed for the long term. It would be a shame for them to introduce it, and then abandon the service or try to download the cost of the service directly on the residents in three years.”

Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal

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