Manitoulin passenger bus service hitting the road this spring: Homegrown transportation solution aiming to serve small communities.

Author:Kelly, Lindsay
 
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It's been a long three years for Guy Dumas, who has been actively championing public transportation on Manitoulin Island since 2016.

But the wait may finally be over this spring--that's the target date for the new pan-Manitoulin bus service to become operational.

Located in Georgian Bay in Lake Huron, Manitoulin Island is a rural area whose population of about 13,000 permanent residents swells in the summer months following an annual influx of tourists.

Some of the communities can be as far as 30 to 60 minutes apart and, aside from a privately run taxi service, there's no transportation to help ferry people between them.

For those who don't own a vehicle, hitchhiking is still a common way to reach their destination of choice.

"I found out the issue is a long-standing issue on Manitoulin Island, going back 100 years," said Dumas, who's based out of the Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory on the Island's east end.

His efforts began through his work as a vocational rehabilitation specialist with March of Dimes Canada.

Time and again he heard from his colleagues about the difficulty their Manitoulin clients had in securing transportation to and from work, making it difficult to retain employment.

March of Dimes employees were providing rides to their clients, but the arrangement was untenable over the long term.

With approval from his employer, Dumas said, he began surveying organizations across the Island and realized the lack of reliable transportation was widespread.

After hosting several meetings with interested stakeholders to discuss options for improving the situation, he formalized his efforts into the United Manitoulin Islands Transit (UMIT) committee in 2017.

In the midst of this work, the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC) announced in April 2018 it was launching bus service across the island, seemingly providing some relief. But the arrangement was short-lived.

After less than two years in operation, ONTC pulled the service, citing low ridership and funding cuts.

Instead, the Crown agency struck a partnership with Little Current-based All in One Taxi Service to shuttle passengers between Little Current and Espanola, about a 40-minute drive, where they can then catch the ONTC bus travelling east or west along Highway 17.

In a Nov. 12 news release, ONTC said ticket holders using the taxi service to catch the bus would be provided special pricing.

"By changing how we are delivering service, Ontario Northland will improve...

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