After a lot of chatter behind closed doors and on social media, Thompson city council set up shop at the Thompson Regional Community Centre April 9 to hear from the public directly about how to improve the local transit system.
City manager Anthony McInnis said all of the feedback from Tuesday’s public transit meeting will be collected and taken into account as council tries to come up with a long-term bus contract to replace their current agreement that expires at the end of June.
Increasing bus rates
McInnis opened up Tuesday’s meeting by laying out the facts about the public transit system, saying the city spent $44,654 on bus service in March despite low ridership that bottoms out at around 20 passengers a day on the weekends.
Recently, council considered, then tabled, a resolution to pass a greater share of the costs onto transit users by eliminating monthly passes and jacking up student/senior and adult bus fares by 66 and 100 per cent, respectively.
However, on Tuesday, this move faced heavy criticism from a group of R.D. Parker Collegiate seniors, who said the majority of their fellow high school students would be negatively affected by the change in cost.
Acelyn Doran-Campbell talked about her own experiences taking the bus everyday from her home in Eastwood and how an increase from $1.50 to $2.50 per ride would put that service out of her reach.
“My alternatives are either a 30-minute walk to school in a part of town where I sometimes don’t feel safe walking by myself ... or a cab which often costs $9 to and from my home and that’s not affordable for me and it’s not affordable for many of the people living in the Eastwood area,” she said.
Kyle Tomchuk said that an RDPC representative should have a seat at the table as the council goes about making their new contract, especially since high school students make up a big chunk of the city’s overall ridership.
Coun. Earl Colbourne, the head of the city’s ad hoc public transit committee, was receptive to Tomchuk’s idea and said he would make the Grade 12 student a stakeholder in the city’s public transit system moving forward.
Clashing ideologies between bus companies
Representatives from both Maple Bus Lines and NCN Thompson Bus chimed in with their own opinions on how to make Thompson public transit sustainable and affordable.
NCN Thompson Bus employee Addie Colbourne echoed a lot of sentiments that were thrown around on Tuesday night by saying that the city should start doing its own maintenance and trade in its larger passenger buses for smaller models to cut down on costs.
“Why are we using large buses, 65-seat passenger buses with one, two or three persons in them? Whose fault is that?” he asked. “[You] have to zero in and go through the transportation system in Thompson with a fine tooth comb and look at all these issues that are costing you unnecessary money.”
However, Wendell Fitzpatrick from Maple Bus, the company that is currently under contract to provide public transit until July 1, said switching to smaller vehicles could result in some accessibility issues for seniors and people with disabilities.
Fitzpatrick also scoffed at the idea that the School District of Mystery Lake should absorb the responsibilities of running the transit system, saying that such a move would result in a sharp increase in taxes.
Resident Bobbi Montean said one of her biggest frustrations with the local transit system is how poorly its services are advertised to the public.
Outside of the fact that some bus stops aren’t adorned with the appropriate signs, she said the city needs to do a better job of letting people know about up-to-date routes and schedules.
“How many people know that there is a bus stop right across from Lakeview Inn and Suites? I asked the staff there how many times they told people about the bus stop … none of them [did],” said Montean. “The front desk knows how to call a taxi, but they don’t know what the bus schedules are. They don’t know what number to call. So why aren’t they being provided with this information?”
Resident Ross Martin piggybacked off this line of thinking by saying that the city could increase its presence in the community by improving its branding.
“It’s time that we had an identifier that said ‘this is Thompson transit,’” he said. “Perhaps you should do something with the schools and say, ‘We need a logo for Thompson transit.’ Maybe they could do a contest or something.”
Colbourne wrapped up Tuesday’s meeting by thanking all of the attendees for their feedback, and said they are all welcome to attend the city’s ad hoc public transit meetings, which take place 3 p.m. at City Hall every Tuesday.
McInnis said council will probably vote on whether or not they should increase bus fares during their April 15 regular meeting.