The Chippewas of the Thames First Nation is launching its first reserve bus service that will take band members to and from London on Monday.

Dressed in the First Nation's emblems, the white 25-passenger bus is part of a three-year pilot called the Pathways Project, with a goal to break down barriers to transportation.

Commuters can be picked up from five stops at the reserve, including the community and seniors centre before making the one-hour trip to London.

Once in London, the bus will drop off at three locations: first at Fanshawe College, then at Western University and finally at the Atlohsa Native Family Healing Services Centre in downtown.

"It's great, they can finally do what they want to do and get out. This is going to be the key to get them to work, to get them to shop, to get them to their appointments, and all the things they need to do," said Chief Myeengun Henry. 

Chief Henry said the first month will be free for band members, after which they will pay $3 per one-way ticket and children under 12 can ride or free.

The service was made possible by the city, Canada 150 Fund, London Community Foundation, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation and other donors.

Chippewas bus

London Mayor Matt Brown, left, and Myeengun Henry, chief of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation standing in front of the Pathways Project bus service. (Submitted by Myeengun Henry)

Community need

Officials said 75 per cent of band members have experienced transportation barriers to employment, housing, education, health needs and other basic services.

"We finally have a way to get our people to London," said Chief Henry, who said many people can't get a license, or a ride into the city.

The bus will make two round-trips every weekday beginning at 7 a.m. Service will begin on Saturdays throughout December to White Oaks Mall in order for band members to get holiday shopping in the bag.

Chief Henry said, depending on the turnout, the First Nation will consider adding either more buses or frequent trips. More developments will include adding physical bus stops, instead of using landmarks as pick-up spots.

He said the community hopes the service will be reliable in order to further build a trust among band members and the bus service — and eventually grow the service.

"it's going to take a little bit of time to build that trust with everybody, and once they see it going on a regular basis, a lot more people will be comfortable and more people will be riding," he said.

"When you see our bus in town, give us a smile, because it's helping a lot of people."