First, Sarnia, Strathroy-Caradoc and London.
Now, points east including Woodstock and even Norfolk County.
Much of Southwestern Ontario, hard hit by the erosion of Via Rail passenger service and traditional coach line busing in recent years, is quietly being laced together under new inter-community busing networks funded by the province for the next few years and expected to begin service this spring.
The region is still waiting for a promised transportation plan that the Progressive Conservative government said would be delivered in the fall, after the Tories hit pause in their April budget on a proposed high-speed rail system linking Southwestern Ontario to the Greater Toronto Area.
But the details of new inter-community busing in the region, under contracts serviced by London company Voyago,are now falling into place, the latest a Tillsonburg-administered system connecting the town to Woodstock and Ingersoll, with other routes planned into Norfolk County, Elgin County and another linking three hospitals in the wider region.
Voyago will begin offering the four routes April 1, later than the originally planned Jan. 1 roll-out to make it more efficient with other area services also launching in the spring, officials say.
“The start date was pushed back to help achieve some of the cost reductions,” Kevin Deleebeeck, Tillsonburg’s operations director, said.
“The fare schedule’s in progress and will be part of the marketing campaign at the beginning of the new year.”
Earlier, Voyago was selected for an inter-city service between Sarnia, Strathroy-Caradoc and London. That service will also start in April and be funded until 2023 with a $1.45-million provincial grant. The Sarnia-to-London leg will have stops in Komoka and Mount Brydges and run five days a week with a run time of about two-and-a-half hours.
The Oxford-based service, a pilot project expected to cost just more than $1 million, is also being funded by a provincial grant through early 2023.
Deleebeeck said Tillsonburg staff and Voyago worked to reduce operating costs for the service, saving about $400,000.
The first route from Tillsonburg to Woodstock and Ingersoll, expected to be the busiest, will run five times a week, with stops in Springford, Otterville, Norwich, Burgessville, Beachville, Centreville and Ingersoll.
The second route will go to Norfolk, with connections two days a week, three times a day, to Langton, Courtland and Delhi. The third route will connect to Straffordville, Vienna and Port Burwell, in Elgin County, and run twice a week, with three trips a day.
The final route will connect Woodstock Hospital to Ingersoll’s Alexandra Hospital and London’s Victoria Hospital. That route will run twice a week, with two trips a day. Depending on demand, that service could be expanded.
Deleebeeck said the next stage will be a marketing campaign and to finalize a fare structure and install bus signs.
Fares for the inter-community services are expected to run between $5 and $15, depending on distance.