by Theresa Peluso

Lanark County residents who aren’t able to drive a car, can’t afford one, or want a greener alternative (and aren’t able to use the few public transit options currently available), will be delighted to know that a Lanark County transit advisory committee is making great progress in exploring solutions for getting around.

It’s difficult right now to get around the county or commute to work if you don’t drive a car.

Add to this the proximity to Ottawa of Carleton Place, Mississippi Mills and Beckwith.  From Carleton Place alone, about 5,000 people commute to Ottawa, and Carleton Place’s current population of 10,000 is expected to double in the next 10 to 15 years.  Elsewhere in Lanark County, Mississippi Mills, Carleton Place and Beckwith could double their populations to a combined total of 30,000.

Here’s what Lanark County is doing to improve the current transportation picture. First, a bit of background.

Just over 10 years ago, a group of concerned residents formed a group, Lanark Community Transit, to address the commuting issue.  They worked diligently to research, analyze and promote a commuting service, as well as public transit within the county.  Of all the municipal councils they contacted, Carleton Place Council were alone in agreeing to fund a commuting service,  resulting in Leduc Bus Lines setting up a weekday commuting route there.  Although Carleton Place later withdrew their funding, this bus line still operates, and is now linked up with Classic Alliance Motorcoach, which operate the commuter bus (http://www.octranspo.com/routes/rural_partner_routes) from Arnprior, Pakenham, Almonte and Carleton Place.

Lanark County already provides a degree of public transit owing to the Lanark Transportation Association (LTA), a community-based, not-for-profit personal transportation service that has been serving the residents of Lanark County and the Town of Smiths Falls since 2001.

LTA’s 15 vehicles, including 4 wheelchair-accessible vehicles, are used to provide transportation related to medical appointments, hospital discharges and mental health services.   LTA has recently expanded their mandate to include “life-enhancing” services or appointments, such as visits to loved ones at hospital, attendance at weddings and funerals, and social outings for residents in long-term care facilities.

Transportation is also provided for job interviews and training, but not for people to get to and from work. Most LTA clients have disabilities and other health issues, and are registered with provincial programs such as Ontario Works and others, which provide funding for the medical transportation required by these clients.  LTA also receives money from Lanark County, the Town of Smiths Falls, and funding through the provincial gas tax program. Last year 23,500 rides were provided to seniors, and to younger people with disabilities.

In Mississippi Mills, Mills Community Support (MCS) provide a similar service for most residents. (Pakenham residents who meet the requirements for this type of transit are basically covered by the LTA, not MCS.)

In recent years LTA has started to provide transportation based on financial need, to ensure that all those who need to get to a medical appointment but who have no other access to transportation, will get there.  Anyone within Lanark County or the Town of Smiths Falls can make use of this service, if they can provide proof of financial need.  The subsidy available from LTA is based on family income.  LTA, who heavily subsidize this service, try to ensure that they can serve as many people as possible for as many trips as possible.  At the same time, LTA are very conscious that their transportation service needs to be financially sustainable, meaning that they need to recover at least 40 percent of their operating costs from fares.

Now, a look at the latest developments.

A few years ago, Jane Torrance and Shaun McLaughlin (Mississippi Mills representatives on Lanark County Council) promoted county transit as part of Lanark County’s strategic plan, and were able to get this item put at the top of the Lanark County agenda.  In response to this, Lanark County agreed to provide funding for a report on public transit.

The consultants selected to prepare this report, Nelson Rogers and Robert Leitch, reviewed existing public transit within Lanark County and proposed some feasible solutions.  (For an overview for this report, see www.county.lanark.on.ca/AssetFactory.aspx?did=7102.)  Following acceptance of this report late last summer, Lanark County struck a committee, named the Transit Advisory Group, to assess the report’s recommendations over the course of six meetings, with the aim of making recommendations to Lanark County on how to move forward.

(The members of TAG are comprised of representatives from organizations that provide community transportation within the county, residents with an interest in this issue, and county staff and elected officials.)

Several exciting initiatives are in the works.

TAG are hoping to increase the ridership of Classic Alliance Motorcoach by helping with their marketing. If ridership does increase as a result, it will make this bus service even more viable.

Lanark County are planning to add a section to their website that will provide information and links to specialty transit and commuter transit, and update it as necessary, to make it easier for people to find transportation that meets their needs.

Lanark Transportation Association are currently implementing a new software program that will build service capacity and assist with last-minute requests (normally they require a week’s notice to book a trip).  They will also shortly be launching a media campaign to heighten awareness of their service and a new subsidy that is now available.

In addition, LTA will be starting a pilot program in the future that incorporates a fixed route service.  They have recently purchased a 9-passenger, low-entry, wheel-chair accessible van which will be used to provide a loop service from different parts of the county into nearby urban centres such as Perth, Smiths Falls and Carleton Place.  This will require consultation with the municipality and residents in developing the routes.

For updates on TAG’s initiatives, check out this link:  https://lanarkcounty.civicweb.net/filepro/documents/67733

If you’re as enthusiastic as I am about all the great possibilities that TAG’s initiatives offer to our County, please encourage your councillors to support our TAG representatives in this new and exciting foray into improving public transit.