Bus to nowhere: A public health crisis

‘Health care services and transit services should be working together’

By Molly MacTaggart

There is no GO bus nor GO train access between Lindsay and Peterborough, or Lindsay and Durham Region.

A newcomer to Kawartha Lakes who does not have a car will soon realize how isolated they are. There is no effective transit system, other than within, and for, the town of Lindsay. There is no transit system among places in Kawartha Lakes, nor is there one between Kawartha Lakes and nearby Peterborough.

There is no GO bus nor GO train access between Lindsay and Peterborough, or Lindsay and Durham Region, to the consternation of many without a vehicle. Yet many must leave Kawartha Lakes for medical appointments, job interviews and to attend classes.

The TOK Coachlines (formerly known as CANAR) provides a bus from Toronto to Lindsay that only runs four times per week in the pandemic, with no guarantees. The now defunct Greyhound bus offered hourly services that easily got one from Peterborough to Toronto, but it has been a causality of the pandemic’s economic drain.

The closest GO bus stop to Lindsay is at Highway 35 and 115, in Clarington. A cab ride between that stop and Lindsay would cost between $80 to $120 according to various travel advisory websites. To compare, a Toronto transit pass is $156 per month to get one almost anywhere in the city.

Kailie Oortwyn, media spokesperson for local MPP Laurie Scott, says there are plans to improve rural transit. The first step will be releasing a draft plan in early 2022 for improving transit throughout eastern Ontario.

Oortwyn told the Advocate that roughly $3 million from all three levels of government went to improving bus services. This $2 million was previously committed by Ontario and the federal government through the Safe Restart Agreement, which was additional COVID-related funding.

Brenna Pegg moved from Toronto to Lindsay after being “renovicted” in Toronto — her landlord made changes that increased the rent. Stable, long-term prospects for the 28-year-old have been dramatically affected by a lack of transit options here. The young woman recently utilized crowd funding to fund dental work required to reduce chronic and persistent pain when she eats, given that she can’t afford a car because of her low income as demonstrated by the need to crowdfund for dental work—it’s a vicious cycle.

Like many who have returned to the region, there is no prospect of long-term work in her desired career area (historical and cultural studies, in her case.)

“I don’t think that there’s any care in planning when it comes to people in the community who don’t have vehicles,” Pegg says. “I think especially Lindsay has planned more for the wealthier residents so there’s no consideration for people who don’t have cars to travel between (communities within the region.)

“It would definitely improve the quality of (health) care. If you live in Lindsay, Omemee or any other small town” in Kawartha Lakes, “having any option to travel to larger parts of the community would be great.”

Pegg says being able to leave Kawartha Lakes to access mental health care and other forms of health care “would be priceless.”

Even something as pervasive as driver’s education should be seen through a lens of transportation privilege, she says. If it was free, “or at the very least subsidized, I probably would have considered it.”

She remembers that it cost more than $600, “and that was just absolutely impossible,” even though it would have reduced insurance rates and opened up new opportunities. “It probably would have changed many people’s lives,” she says.

Pegg says governments at all levels have been “uncaring about the residents’ lives.

“There really are a lot of Ontarians, Canadians who don’t have the support networks to pay for a driver’s ed class, or a car.”

Free or low-cost driver’s education to allow more secondary school students to obtain their licence and fulfill their volunteer hour graduation requirement would change things for the better, she says.

Via and GO

The municipality has been actively lobbying the federal government for a VIA rail stop in Kawartha Lakes, with an emphasis on Pontypool, according to Cheri Davidson, manager of communications for Kawartha Lakes, says the project is in the early stages.

“The 2021 announcement of the search for a vendor to design the new route was the first step. This would help solve challenges for those who need to connect to larger cities,” says Davidson acknowledging there is “a gap for residents who do not drive” in being able to leave the city.

Davidson says Mayor Andy Letham attended meetings last year with senior staff from the city and the provincial government (Ministry of Transportation), alongside Laurie Scott, local MPP, who served as minister of infrastructure at the time.

“The urgency for residents to have a link to other communities through the GO Transit system was brought forward. The mayor noted that this would help address our labour force requirements,” Davidson says.

She said there are ongoing discussions about a possible on-demand pilot with the ministry that could involve linking Peterborough, Lindsay, Pontypool, and Toronto in the GO system.

“Metrolinx was clear that Kawartha Lakes’ current ridership potential doesn’t support a GO train. With new growth and new development on the way, there is potential for future years,” she said.

Jordan Prosper, manager of transportation and fleet for Community Care City of Kawartha Lakes services feels confident that the non-profit’s team of workers and volunteers can meet the new challenges being presented for rural communities in a post-COVID context.

“We have two distinct programs,” he says. One is the volunteer transportation stream where drivers use their personal vehicles to provide more than 2,000 rides per month. Another program is for more specialized transportation “which is what you see around our community in our (Community Care-branded) Nissan Cargo vans,” he says. These vehicles have equipment for people who require wheelchairs and stretchers. We are currently averaging over 800 rides per month with specialized transportation.

“We have taken several clients to Sunnybrook, St. Mike’s, and Peterborough,” says Prosper adding that service is  “according to volunteer availability and client demand.”

Prosper says that trips to Orillia, Oshawa, Peterborough and Toronto are needed regularly by Community Care clients, thus volunteers are filling an important gap to ensure fewer people fall through the cracks.

This is a plan that relies, though, on the graciousness of volunteers – not a government-led or supported transportation system.

The median age of Kawartha Lakes according to the 2016 census is 51 years, which is a whole decade older than the national average.

Prosper says Community Care staff are well aware there will be “an increased demand” with the population aging. “We’re confident we can provide an ongoing service that’s safe, affordable and reliable,” but will need more drivers to meet the demand.

“We’re no different than a number of other non-for-profit agencies. Our volunteers and our staff have decreased,” he says.

He says it’s older adults who make up most of the volunteer base, as is the case with most charitable and non-profit groups.

Amy Jane Vosper.

Amy Jane Vosper is a course instructor at Trent University who recently earned her PhD by being a voracious scholar of thriller, horror and paranormal themed films — a traditionally male-dominated oeuvre. She often discusses with her students the real-life horror of those left behind during the pandemic with fewer travel and health care options.

“We say we have universal healthcare in Canada but that’s not 100 per cent accurate,” Vosper says. “It has to do with where you’re located, how much you can access transit services. If you’re a senior living in an isolated or remote community, the chance of you being able to get to a doctor, to get to medical help when you need it, is significantly less” compared to seniors living in urban areas.

“When it gets to the point that you can’t be driving around yourself, what happens then?”

Vosper, whose  thesis title was Women in Horror: On the screen, in the scene, behind the screams, says  her memories of commuting during her undergrad and masters were equally frightening.

“It was a long, long trip (commuting from Ottawa to Kawartha Lakes) and it was kind of difficult.” When she first moved to Ottawa, she didn’t know anyone, so most weekends she made the four-hour trip back home.

Like a lot of residents in rural Ontario, Vosper is without a family doctor. “I did have medical options in Fenelon where my doctor was when I was growing up,” but that option isn’t there any longer and she has been using clinics when needed.

Vosper says those in marginalized communities, those suffering with mental illness or people fleeing domestic violence are all negatively affected by poor transportation options, making this a gender equity issue, too.

And it’s clear that as transit options get reduced, there is a cascade effect on accessing health care, as well as education and job opportunities. With Kawartha Lakes growing at a swifter pace than ever as people start looking for a new life outside the Greater Toronto Area, demand for public transportation may well grow, bringing this critical issue to the forefront.”

3 Comments

  1. Colleen says:

    I moved up here 20 years ago with the promise that transit would be developed. Pffffft – 20 years and not a damn thing has changed. All I can suggest to the youth that come of age and want to explore the world, make something of themselves – get the hell out of Kawartha Lakes. This place is LANDLOCKED!

  2. JR Campbell says:

    My daughter goes to oshawa college and I have ro drop her there everyday. Not a train in sight. Smh we need city council to do something ASAP.

  3. Local resident says:

    This story is so important and I hope the Advocate continues to write stories about it to keep pressure up. I am one of these landlocked people. It’s not because of financial issues. I am phobic of driving and simply can’t. We need a GoTrain or at least a bus that goes to the GoTrain several times a day.

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