Students, seniors boost bus ridership
More northern Ontario towns look at investing in public transit, but sometimes it can be a tough sell
More people across the country are using city buses to get around and demanding better service — and that includes some smaller towns in northern Ontario.
Public transit in Temiskaming is a far cry from what people see in more urban areas. Roughly 250 riders can take one of four school buses that travel among the towns of New Liskeard, Haileybury and Cobalt. But that's about to change.
Later this fall, four new fully accessible transit vans costing $700,000 will hit the road.
Temiskaming Shores Mayor Carman Kidd said, like in larger cities, transit in the tri-towns is expanding to serve a growing student population.
"Northern College is always expanding," Kidd said. "They're getting more and more students all the time, so we're expecting more and more ridership. There's 500 students this year."
The aging population is also expected to put pressure on smaller communities to invest in public transit. Likewise with towns that have become bedroom communities — like Callander.
But investing in public transit doesn’t always pay off, according to Callandar Mayor Hector Lavigne. He said the town hired a school bus last year to take riders to North Bay, but the route had to be cancelled.
"[People] keep on asking for it, and I don't blame them, but you need the ridership," he said. "There was many times that the bus went empty."
But Lavigne noted small towns like his will have to tackle this chicken-and-egg transit question in the coming years, particularly in light of the rise of groups representing city bus riders.
The Friends of Sudbury Transit formed last year, as did a group called Sault Transit Reform.
The latter was founded by 17-year-old Matthew Frank Kot, who was concerned about the rising cost of bus fare in Sault Ste. Marie.
He said he's not sure why no one has done this before.
"Some may say the bus service is good as it is right now," Kot said. "But some people [are] just too shy to speak out. And I'm the kind of person that when I have a concern, I speak out about it."
Kot says he currently uses transit to get around in the Sault, but says he will give up his bus pass as soon as he able to afford his own car.