Edwardsburgh Cardinal council has agreed to participate in developing a pilot project for a Brockville-to-Cardinal commuter bus service, but signalled that it should be a low priority for staff.
At its last regular meeting of 2020, council agreed to work with Brockville, Prescott and Augusta on the bus idea but it told its staffers that their participation should be only as time permits.
The “as-time-permits” qualifier was a compromise to soothe the concerns of a council committee that earlier advised against the township’s participation because the municipality’s staff already had too much on its plate.
At its meeting a week earlier, council’s finance committee rejected participation in the discussions about the pilot project in a 4-3 vote, with the majority expressing concerns that it would place too much of a burden on already-busy staff.
The commuter-bus idea is the brainchild of the Eastern Ontario Leadership Council, which is willing to pay for six-month pilot projects for commuter-bus service in the region.
The most likely scenario would be to have a bus run between Brockville and Cardinal to transport workers along the County Road 2 corridor, but the route, frequency of buses and the schedule would have to be decided by the four municipalities.
The leadership council said the transit projects should concentrate on serving commuters, particularly those in essential services.
Prescott and Augusta have agreed to investigate the idea of having a project here and Edwardsburgh Cardinal’s decision means three municipalities are now on board. Brockville city council has yet to discuss the pilot project formally.
There is a tight timeline for applications to the program. The municipalities would have to develop a proposal for the leadership council in January.
If chosen by the leadership council, which is a joint creation of the Eastern Ontario Wardens’ Caucus and the mayors’ caucus, the pilot project would have to start in March and run until September when the results would be evaluated.
The most likely idea would see the service run as an extension of Brockville Transit but that, too, has yet to be decided.
At Edwardsburgh Cardinal’s finance committee, Coun. John Hunter was skeptical about the viability of a bus service and its value to township residents.
Hunter said that most residents who work outside of the township travel to Ottawa or Kemptville, not Brockville. He also doubted that the bus line would be self-financing after the pilot project was done.
He added that the commuter traffic in Edwardsburgh Cardinal tends to be north-south, not east-west as envisioned by the Cardinal-Brockville route.
Mayor Pat Sayeau said he once ran a thriving bus company that carried workers back and forth to mines in Northern Ontario. But the ridership eventually dwindled as the workers got second cars. Nobody wanted to wait for a bus, so the service eventually was cancelled, Sayeau added.
The mayor, too, was skeptical that a Brockville-Cardinal bus line would be viable. And he shared other finance committee members’ concerns that staff wouldn’t have time to participate in the discussions with the other municipalities.
Coun. Stephen Dillabough and Deputy Mayor Tory Deschamps supported entering the talks about the pilot project, with Dillabough calling it “the way of the future.”
Although the finance committee rejected participating in the pilot project, the full council later agreed to co-operate in the talks as long as staff could find the time.
Brockville Mayor Jason Baker, who has long advocated greater co-operation among area municipalities, on Monday expressed interest in the talks.
“Absolutely, and transit is just one” of the services the city can discuss sharing with its municipal neighbours, said Baker.
But the Brockville mayor added partners must come to the table with the understanding that “a transit system is an expensive proposition.”
The city would enter a partnership that does not place a “financial drain” on Brockville taxpayers, added Baker.
So far, said Baker, he has only discussed the transit idea, among others, at a new modernization task force bringing together the 13 mayors of the Leeds and Grenville area.
(With files from Ronald Zajac)