By Lisa Tolentino, HC Link Community Consultant
On March 29th, 2016 HC Link partnered with the Rural Ontario Institute (ROI), Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition (OHCC) and Routes Connecting Communities to organize and host a forum for rural and community transportation stakeholders. Moving Ahead on Rural and Community Transportation was held to enable participants to share experiences and lessons learned, and help support peer-to-peer networking. Significant steps are being taken by many municipalities and other stakeholders to improve community transportation in rural areas around Ontario. Representatives from diverse organizations that are implementing community transportation initiatives were in attendance as over 100 people from across the province attended both in-person and online, via live-streaming/webinar.
Things kicked off with an exercise to provide opportunities for networking and to get to know who was in the room, and online. The majority of participants represented municipal and regional government, followed by the non-profit sector. Others working within the private and education sectors were also in attendance. Representatives attended from the following regions and districts:
• Kawartha Lakes
• Kenora (Dryden)
• Lambton (Sarnia)
• Leeds and Grenville (Brockville)
• Perth County (Stratford)
• York (Georgina)
A presentation was then given by Cathy Wilkinson from Routes Connecting Communities, which is a transportation provider serving the northern part of York Region. Their volunteer drivers use their own vehicles to provide available, accessible and affordable transportation to people who are restricted due to life circumstances such as financial hardship, health issues, and geographic, social or cultural isolation.
Cathy’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion with three other transportation service providers in the province, including: 1) Brad Smith from Ride Norfolk, 2) Heather Inwood-Montrose from The Rural Overland Utility Transit (TROUT), and 3) Rick Williams from Muskoka Extended Transit (MET). The panelists focused on sharing the challenges and successes that they have experienced in delivering public transit in their respective areas.
Next the Ministry of Transportation offered an overview of what Community Transportation (CT) is to them, and highlighted a few examples of initiatives that they are currently funding across the province. This is a $2 million, 2-year pilot grant program to provide financial assistance to Ontario municipalities for the development and implementation of community transportation initiatives. As part of the CT Program, 22 municipalities have undertaken projects to either start or expand collaborative projects in their regions. MTO representatives also announced that they will soon be supporting communities around the province with increased networking and engagement opportunities with respect to Community Transportation.
Following lunch, participants broke into small groups to discuss five topics:
Building Community Support - demonstrating the need and/or making the case for community transportation
Collaboration & Partnership Building - managing different organizational mandates and moving forward
Revenue Generation & Funding - using both traditional and innovative or creative approaches to generating funds
Marketing & Promotion - of new and/or existing transportation services
Technology - procuring vehicles, using integrated software, and other forms of technology
The day ended with a live streaming presentation by Caryn Souza from the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA). The CTAA consists of organizations and individuals who support mobility for all Americans regardless of where they live or work. Their membership includes community transit providers, public transit agencies, organizations providing health care and/or employment services, government, college and university planners, private bus companies, taxi operators, people concerned with the special mobility needs of those with disabilities, manufacturers and many other organizations who share a commitment to mobility. Caryn explained that there are many different programs that the CTAA is currently involved in, from mobility management to transit planning and ridesharing across the nation.
Overall, the day was full of information about Community Transportation in both Ontario and across the USA. Participants said that it was great to be in a room with others who have the same struggles as they do, and that they had the opportunity to learn from one another and as well as brainstorm solutions. Many said that they were able to foster connections with other people working on-the-ground and that they learned something that they will be able to apply in their own communities. HC Link was also pleased to have had the chance to help facilitate this group of passionate and committed people!