MusGo Rider hopes to expand transport service in rural HRM
Co-operative requests funding for a fixed route linking rural HRM communities with the downtown core
January 22, 2020, 5:20 pm ASTLast Updated: January 22, 2020, 5:20 pm
Aside from Halifax Transit route 401 which stops in Seaforth, there are few transit options for people who live in HRM communities along Highway 207.
One rural transport service wants to change that.
MusGo Rider Rural Transportation is proposing a new service that would run vans between Halifax’s Portland Hills and Porters Lake bus terminals along the seaside stretch of highway. It would be a set route, picking up passengers in communities like Lawrencetown, West Chezzetcook and Seaforth at stops along the way.
MusGo Rider is a rural transportation co-operative. It’s a call-in service that currently operates along the Eastern Shore and Sheet Harbour. In these areas, passengers pay a monthly membership fee on top of a per-trip fee.
The co-operative presented a funding request for their new service to HRM’s budget committee on Wednesday.
Coun. David Hendsbee said his community has long wanted a more convenient and affordable way to get into HRM’s core.
“They’ve been wanting transit for quite some time now,” said Hendsbee in an interview. “But since Halifax Transit isn’t going to expand its service territory, I got to find alternative sources.”
In a 2019 feasibility study, MusGo Rider outlined how the service would run. They propose two large vans that would run along fixed routes during busy commuter times in the morning and evening, with another van running the route during the middle of the day.
It’s an idea that’s been percolating for a while, said MusGo Rider executive director Jessie Greenough.
“It just took this long to co-ordinate the whole effort and get money for the feasibility study,” she said in an interview shortly after MusGo’s consultant presented the plan to the budget committee.
Project needs municipal, provincial funding
The fixed route system and expanded service area means MusGo Rider needs funding from both HRM and the province.
“It really depends on government, how they feel about it and if they have the funds to do it, because it’s quite a costly project as all transit is,” said Greenough.
MusGo is asking council for $94,000 in funding through the city’s rural transit fund which subsidizes costs for rural transit companies. They’re also applying for a grant of $180,000 for three new vans in a cost-sharing agreement with the province.
Hendsbee said part of the appeal of MusGo’s fixed route service is for people in urban HRM. This could include tourists, surfers and students who want to visit Lawrencetown Beach.
“A lot of people from the city would love to come out to the beach by bus, but there’s no service out there,” Hendsbee said.
Nico Manos, who’s lived in Lawrencetown for 15 years and runs East Coast Surf School, said the service would be ideal for tourists and locals. When asked if he’d use it himself, he was enthusiastic.
“One hundred per cent. know I would, I know my kids would as well when they’re old enough,” he said in an interview.
“Unfortunately there’s no public transportation to the beach.”
He said that if MusGo’s prices were affordable, the service could provide people in Halifax with a cheaper way to get to the beach rather than relying on taxis which can cost about $30 from Cole Harbour.
MusGo Rider estimates each ride would cost $5 per adult, with the option to buy packages of tickets or a monthly pass.
HRM transit link could change plans
MusGo Rider also wants the service to be linked with Halifax Transit. Jamie Stewart with Four Points Consulting said that more than 90 per cent of MusGo riders would link up with HRM transit buses after their journey along the proposed route. He also suggested the rider service have special parking spots allotted near the Portland and Porters Lake transit terminals.
Stewart’s feasibility study suggests a fare-sharing agreement which would allow passengers to use one payment method for both MusGo Rider and Halifax Transit.
“Riders don’t want to pay two separate fares,” he told the council.
Currently, city bylaws would prevent a fare-sharing agreement between Halifax Transit and MusGo. Greenough said if the city can’t change that bylaw, MusGo Rider will ask for more funding to keep the tickets affordable.
Rural rider services like Musgo, BayRides and East Hants Community Rider received $257,850 in grants during the 2018-19 fiscal year.
After submitting a funding request to the budget committee, Greenough said MusGo Rider will apply for provincial funding in the coming weeks.
While she doesn’t know how long it will take the city to review their request, she hopes they’ll have drivers using the route by March 2021.
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