The challenge of rural public transportation in council’s lap
The new Annapolis County council is faced with big decisions regarding public transportation.
By Stephen Hawboldt
Some of the first decisions for the new councils in Annapolis County and the three towns will revolve around public transit. County staff has prepared a report for county council that is slated to be acted on next week. Because the county pays the lion’s share of the costs, their decisions are key.
Several years ago the four municipal councils asked King's Transit, a municipal corporation providing public transit within Kings County, to provide service to Annapolis County. The municipality owns the buses and, until recently, all four units paid the operating costs with King's Transit managing the system
Contractual arrangements among all the players are currently in flux. Annapolis Royal has withdrawn, agreements with the other towns are pending, and the contract with King's Transit is not finalized. The issues are further complicated because King's Transit, under a separate agreement with municipal councils in Digby, also provides public transit that links from Windsor to Weymouth.
Within Annapolis County, scheduling required that the service be divided into two sectors providing service from Cornwallis to Greenwood. Fares cover a portion of the annual cost with the shortfall being subsidized by taxpayers from the four units. The subsidy varies between sectors due to differences in ridership.
The Annapolis East sector provides weekday service from Greenwood to Bridgetown from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. In this fiscal year, municipal subsidies will cover 48 per cent of the operating costs with the remainder coming from the fare box. Annapolis County taxpayers will pay about $72,000 with Middleton and Bridgetown contributing about $16,000 and $6,000, respectively.
The Annapolis West sector provides service from Bridgetown to Cornwallis from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays. The hours were originally extended to accommodate shift workers at the now closed Converge call centre at Cornwallis. Taxpayers currently subsidize 73 per cent of the costs for this sector. County taxpayers will contribute $191,000 and Annapolis Royal about $21,000 if the Town’s new council reinstates participation.
To reduce costs and the subsidy required, county staff is suggesting that weekday and weekend service in Annapolis West be identical to that available in Annapolis East. As well, routing will change with only one Annapolis Royal stop because the town does not participate. These changes will reduce the annual subsidy by about $50,000 for the Annapolis West service. Council will be asked to approve this change so officials can make application to the Utilities and Review Board. The URB approval process could take months.
There are other issues. One or more of the current buses will need to be replaced, according to county staff. These cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each depending on the bus purchased. Because all agreements are influx, there is uncertainty as to how these will be financed.
As the original contract with King's Transit did not require the collection of user data, little or no information is available on who is using the buses when and where. County CAO Brenda Orchard said transit is only potentially available to the 30 per cent of county residents who live within one kilometre of a transit line.
All of this may be complicated by the frosty relationship between the municipality, King's Transit, and its municipal owners in Kings County. The courts have been asked to resolve a dispute between King's Transit and Annapolis County regarding the division of a federal regional transit grant received several years ago. This issue is still before the courts. While Annapolis County appoints a non-voting representative to the King's Transit board of directors, that representative reports that he does not receive notification of meetings or other information.