News that the City of Thompson has finally come out with a plan to restore transit service after not having a permanent solution for the past year is welcome, even if, at this point, it is only a plan in theory, pending submission and approval of at least one response to an upcoming request for proposals.
Since Greyhound Canada shut down their Western Canada operations last Oct. 31, Thompson has been without a city-operated transit service for about seven-and-a-third of the past 12 months, apart from the period between Feb. 11 and June 30, when Maple Bus Lines was providing temporary transit, funded by the city. Thankfully, for at least some of the time that there has been no city transit, the School District of Mystery Lake has stepped up, as required by the Public Schools Act, to provide bus service for students, not all of whom have parents with cars or with work schedules that make it possible for them to get rides and who may not live close enough to their schools to reasonably be able to walk home for lunch, eat and then make it back to school within the space of an hour.
Still, given that the city’s proposed new transit system – which would offer weekday service, express routes during peak usage times before and after school and use smaller vehicles than full-sized buses – is not exactly revolutionary as a concept, it is difficult to understand why it has taken about four months, so far, since transit was suspended a second time, to come up with a plan.
Obviously, the city and its taxpayers don’t want to pay any more than necessary to operate city transit, given that it is not something that is ever going to turn a profit, or even break even. However, part of the role of governments is to provide services that the private sector can’t or won’t because there is no business case for them. Just because something costs money doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done. No one is suggesting that we don’t have parks, or don’t operate an arena, or clear snow, or fight fires, simply because none of these services and amenities are likely to turn a profit. The city even operates a gym, possibly at a monetary loss, despite the fact that there are privately operated gyms that people can go to in Thompson.
It is easy for someone who has a car and can drive and the money for gas, or who is able-bodied and can get around town under their own power, to say that having transit is not worth it. Collecting data on how many people use city buses, who they are, why they use them and then analyzing if anything can be done to encourage more people to do so takes work. But as Thompson copes with the changing dynamics of the local and regional economy and seeks to encourage people to build their lives in the city, it is counterproductive to simultaneously reduce services and amenities, such as the Norplex Pool and city transit, whether by necessity or because of poor advance planning, while pinning their hopes that large residential lots to the north of the city will be an enticement to people who might otherwise move away in search of greener pastures.
It might be too much to hope that transit will be up and running before the end of November, but it certainly is possible. It is, at the very least, encouraging that some headway is being made after months of no information on what is happening being provided to the public.