Time to move forward on busing issue, says Warden Ritchie
By Stephen Hawboldt
Annapolis County Warden Reg Ritchie said it is time to put past differences behind and to move forward on improving transit services in Annapolis County. The warden was reacting to the rejection of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court of the county’s claim for $404,884 from Kings Transit.
As 23 per cent of the Kings Transit ridership comes from the Annapolis County portion of service, the municipality asked the courts to award them that portion of the $1.76 million received from the federal government for transit services in the Annapolis Valley. Annapolis County argued that because they are not voting members of the not-for-profit transit corporation they were not part of the decision process on the allocation of these funds.
Kings Transit is a municipal corporation owned by the towns of Wolfville, Kentville, and Berwick, and the Municipality of Kings. The voting membership is solely shared by those units. The corporation also provides transit services in separate arrangements to Hants West, Annapolis, and Digby counties.
Justice Gregory Warner did not agree. "While Annapolis did not control the projects upon which the federal funds were expended, it received the same proportionate benefit from the projects as the other areas serviced by Kings Transit," said the Justice in his written ruling earlier this month.
He concluded that Kings Transit spent the grant money on eligible capital projects that benefitted the entire system.
Warden Ritchie said that he was disappointed with the result but that he would be recommending against any appeal. He said it would be up to the council to make the final decision at their December session. He said that there have been productive meetings with Kings Transit to finalize a new agreement for transit in Annapolis County.
The county has had separate agreements with each of Annapolis Royal, Bridgetown, and Middleton that are currently in flux. Annapolis Royal has withdrawn and accords with the other towns are pending.
In November, Annapolis County council invited the three towns to meet to discuss these issues. Andy Kerr, chair of the Bridgetown and Area Chamber of Commerce, said earlier in November that the business community would like to be consulted on public transit issues in the region.
Service delivery is further complicated because Kings Transit, under a separate agreement with municipal councils in Digby, also provides public transit that links from Windsor to Weymouth. Changes have been proposed to that service by Kings Transit that could impact service in Annapolis County.
In addition, the municipality would like to find ways to reduce the subsidy required for the service between Bridgetown and Cornwallis. Currently, the county provides $191,000 in subsidies. By making schedule and route changes, they hope to save $50,000 annually. Any changes need to be approved by the Utility Review Board which could take several months.
One or more of the current buses will need to be replaced within the next few months, according to county staff. These cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each depending on the bus purchased. This could be part of the capital budgeting process.
As the original contract with Kings 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 kilometer of a transit line.
Transit is likely to remain on the county council agenda for the next several months.