Charlotte County group makes final push for bus funding
Bus route needed now more than ever, says Southwest New Brunswick Transit Authority Inc.
The Southwest New Brunswick Transit Authority Inc. is making its final push for funding for a bus service between St. Stephen and Saint John.
The board of directors recently met to discuss a once a week trial route with the authority's cash, but decided that wouldn't serve the needs of the citizens, who would use the service to get to specialist appointments at the hospital, or access other services.
Numerous Service New Brunswick locations have reduced services recently and in October 2015 the St. Stephen courthouse closed and merged with Saint John's.
Residents are also currently trying to save the operating room at the Charlotte County Hospital from closure, which was announced in early July.
Board president Stan Choptiany says the bus link to Saint John is needed now more than ever with the closures.
"Rural isolation is very real for us," he says, "and we believe we have a well-researched business plan that indicates that a transportation service would be efficient and would actually save the government money in the long run."
He says a lot of that money comes from the financial burden of missed medical appointments and court dates.
"We did a study on missed appointments and we were able to show that there's as much as $200,000 lost in missed medical and social services.
"A bus would dramatically change that kind of accessibility and affordability."
Four years in the making
The route would stop in a number of communities along the way, including St. Andrews, Pennfield, St. George, and Lepreau, and would connect to both Saint John Transit and the Saint John Regional Hospital.
But now that they have the research, getting the operational funding, estimated at roughly $400,000 per year, has proven difficult.
Choptiany says he has met with a number of federal and provincial representatives, including St. Stephen MLA and cabinet minister Rick Doucet, Tourism Minister John Ames, and MP Karen Ludwig. They have all expressed their support for the plan, but have not yet committed any funding.
And with so much invested, he said they can't continue pouring their energy into a project if it's doomed to fail.
"It gets to be a point where after that length of time, you think, 'Well, you gave it your best shot,' but hopefully we won't have to make that decision."
Bus can't replace service loss
The co-chair of Concerned Citizens of Charlotte County thinks the route would be a step in the right direction, but would rather see services return to Charlotte County.
"Even with the bus service, you're going to run into a situation where you're going to be spending an exceptionally long time on this bus with everybody is doing their errands," said John Gardner.
"It seems like there's a general move to move things into the regional model, or the centralization," he said.
But Gardner added even though the provincial government seems to be treating Charlotte County as part of Greater Saint John, it is its own entity.
The transit authority has a meeting with MP Karen Ludwig on Tuesday to discuss funding options.