Transit plan progresses in SW New Brunswick

St. Andrew’s Mayor Stan Choptiany finally sees light at the end of the tunnel, and is confident that there will be public transportation linking communities in Charlotte County with Saint John by late this fall.

“It’s happening,” he commented, following the July 22 inaugural meeting of the newly constituted not-for profit Southwest New Brunswick Transportation Authority Inc.  It’s the result of two years of deliberations by the members of the Charlotte-York Transportation Committee, which initially met to find solutions to the lack of adequate public transit in this region of rural New Brunswick – especially to the regional centre, Saint John. The authority’s first act was to hire a project development co-ordinator on full-time contract. The successful applicant was Sue Farquharson of Due South Strategies.

The co-ordinator’s first task is to establish the by-laws, policies, and financial procedures of the newly incorporated authority in order to facilitate the establishment of a board of directors. Initially the proposed board will include the membership of seven municipal representatives, (mayors or their appointees), within the service area of the authority, as well as representatives of unincorporated areas, non-governmental organizations, and representatives of the existing dial-a-ride services in the region.

Given the geographical peculiarities of the region, with rural settlement scattered along a peripheral ridge while population concentrations are in the coastal towns and villages off the main highway, dial-a-ride connections to and from the central route between St. Stephen and Saint John will be essential to feed the bus. Ms. Farquharson is presently developing plans to gather information from such groups as low-income earners, community college students, seniors groups, those on social assistance and the unemployed. The initial operational model originally envisioned by the committee will also be validated by the co-ordinator as to timing and routes, connections, and ticketing options.

The authority will not own or operate the buses, but will tender this to a private provider who will employ the drivers and maintain the vehicles. The project co-ordinator will devise the contract guidelines and the service delivery template in order to facilitate the tender request. Liaison with the provincial departments of Social Services and Health, local employers, and the Energy and Utilities Board is also included in the project co-ordinator’s remit. Finally she will also develop the criteria for a communication plan which will include news releases, advertising and the social media.

There’s still much work to be done, says Mayor Choptiany, and funding remains an issue.  He estimates the service will cost about $400,000 annually to operate, with somewhere between 25 and 40 percent coming from farebox revenue.  The remainder will have to come from government sources, but he believes there’s a strong case to be made – and that public transit is a solution that will actually save taxpayer dollars in the long run. This initiative could provide a model for other areas of the province to follow.

by Michael Perry

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