City of Kawartha Lakes Mayor Andy Letham says he absolutely wants Community Care to be a part of any future rural transportation plan – but they were not viable partners for a grant opportunity recently turned down by the City.
Some eyebrows were raised recently when City of Kawartha Lakes council turned down the chance to apply for up to $2 million in provincial grant funding for rural transit.
There was some behind-the-scenes speculation that the City was turning down the chance to apply for grant money when a potential partner like Community Care was a ready-made fit.
However, Todd Bryant, manager, fleet and transit for City of Kawartha Lakes, says Community Care did not meet the criteria in the granting proposal and “would not have been considered as a viable option as they do not have a scheduled service or have equipment that has 10 seats and two accessible spots.”
Letham says it didn’t make sense to try and apply for grant money at the last minute without a plan in place.
“The grant was an application to apply, it wasn’t a done deal,” he tells The Lindsay Advocate.
He also pointed to a previous motion put in place from the old council to refrain from taking action on rural transit without a plan.
“We shouldn’t be running around chasing grants. We need to have a process and plan in place,” the mayor says.
Letham says the criteria for the grant was fairly specific and Community Care just could not have been the fit needed to apply for the grant.
“However, I think Community Care will have to be a part of any future plan we make,” says the mayor. “But it has to be a scheduled sort of route.”
Joan Skelton, interim CEO of Community Care, agrees with Letham.
“We’re part of the puzzle but we’re not the whole puzzle,” she says, regarding rural transportation, noting they only make stops that are booked for clients of Community Care.
Skelton says there are several examples across the province where various groups have partnered to provide transportation, and some are Community Care-like agencies.
In Northumberland County Community Care has a partnership there with the municipality, but they are using mini buses for that service – something Community Care City of Kawartha Lakes doesn’t have.
Locally, the Community Care just has vans that are retrofitted so they can accommodate two wheelchairs.
Every year Community Care gives 64,000 rides to 3,000 people, most of those stops medically related.
Mike Puffer, director of marketing and development at Community Care, says of those 64,000 rides, about 51,000 rides are simply volunteers using own vehicles to take people to where they need to go.
“We have hundreds of volunteers who only get a per-kilometre compensation for gas,” Puffer explains.
Skelton says Community Care does see itself as “a critical component to rural transportation in the City of Kawartha Lakes.”
She notes they are active in the rural transportation working group that was established through the Poverty Reduction Roundtable group.
‘No downside’ to apply for grant
One dissenter on council with the decision to forego applying for the grant money was Ward 6 Councillor Doug Elmslie.
Lately, as a member of the transportation sub committee of the Poverty Reduction Round Table, Elmslie points out they’ve been working with Fleming College to take advantage of their shuttle service between Lindsay and Peterborough.
He called it a “modest start,” and it only runs eight months of the year.
“But the $500,000 grant would have allowed us to run that service for 12 months, and in the fourth year their was a requirement to have an exit strategy, should the program look like it was not viable.”
“I saw no downside for the City in applying for this grant,” Elmslie says.
The other component of the grant — $1.5 million – “would have allowed us to expand or revisit our rural service, but the odds of us receiving that grant was probably very slim,” he admits.
Community Care may prove to be future partner
Mayor Letham says a subsidy with Community Care may work out some day.
“I just think if we’re going to do rural transportation we need to do it properly and not just pick a few communities. Nobody’s against rural transit, but we need to define what that is,” he says.
The mayor says the City’s goal is to work with the Poverty Reduction Roundtable and to link “all our communities as well as we can.”
He says rural transit “is not running a bus into Bobcaygeon and Fenelon Falls and then back to Lindsay.”
In the end, City of Kawartha Lakes council passed a motion on rural transit that would see a blueprint for transit expansion over the next 10 years. The first five years is mainly focused on Lindsay Transit service expansion and enhancements. The latter five years is focused on “rationalized service expansion” into other communities.
Letham also had transportation on his mind at the last Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus meeting with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario in Ottawa. There was a recommendation there to change the gas tax to a formula-based funding.
This would mean it would change from being awarded only to municipalities with rural transit systems (like Kawartha Lakes’) to giving every municipality a share of the gas tax funds to use as they see fit.
Letham put forward a counter recommendation to protect the two cents of gas tax the City currently receives, but to allow any additional gas taxes that come in the future to be on a funding formula, as a way of protecting the Lindsay Transit system.