The Ride Norfolk transportation initiative is bracing for a major pothole in the new year.
Norfolk council received an update on the bus service Tuesday and clearly signalled it was not impressed with what it heard.
The shuttle service between Simcoe, Port Rowan, Delhi, St. Williams, Waterford and Port Dover has been on the road for more than a year.
The service will cost nearly $300,000 this year yet is averaging about 16 fares a day. The service, in fact, may be catering to as few as eight people a day taking into account that riders will use the shuttle for round trips.
Council members did some quick math when presented with the numbers. They are not happy that the service could be costing taxpayers as much as $150 per day per rider.
“Boy, can we ever get a lot of taxis for $150 a day,” said Langton Coun. Roger Geysens.
A coalition of social service agencies pressured council into establishing the shuttle bus last year. Representatives said there was a great need for transportation between Norfolk’s major communities. Council was told that vulnerable members of the community – many on the lower end of the income scale – have difficulty keeping medical appointments and lacked access to basic shopping because of transportation issues.
In a report to council Tuesday, shuttle co-ordinator Brad Smith said he is doing his best to get the county better value for the dollar.
The Transportation Co-ordination Team – the umbrella group that Smith reports to – has called a new tender for a less expensive bus service.
A consultant hired with an Ontario Trillium grant in August has also provided suggestions for additional savings. These include reducing hours of service, cutting Smith’s pay, having the county buy its own shuttle and increasing the cost of a ride.
Smith has also approached service clubs for subsidies. He is trying to convince social service agencies with their own transportation programs to embrace Ride Norfolk. The transportation team is also willing to sell advertising on the side of the Ride Norfolk shuttle.
Whatever Smith comes up with, he better hurry. Council will deliberate its 2013 levy-supported operating budget in January. Councillors warned it may be a time for hard decisions.
“I didn’t have a lot of optimism about this at the beginning,” said Simcoe Coun. Charlie Luke. “And I guess I have less now than I did then. The numbers just aren’t there. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to stop the bleeding. I’m disappointed. I was hoping this was going to take off. But it’s not.”
Windham Coun. Jim Oliver has been a Ride Norfolk booster in the past. However, his opinion has begun to evolve.
“I try to be a supporter – a champion even,” Oliver said. “But I admit it becomes more difficult as each week goes by.”
In a report to council in May, Smith estimated that Ride Norfolk would bring in $12,780 in revenue by the end of September. The service fell short of that, grossing only $11,222.
A provincial gas tax grant will offset some of the cost Norfolk has incurred this year. The province makes this money available to municipalities with transit services. County staff has yet to apply for the money and is unable to say how much might be forthcoming.
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