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Pembroke, Ont. gives green light to test on-demand public transit system


The City of Pembroke has given approval to start looking into an innovative public transit model.

Unlike traditional bus service with set routes and stops, this new service would work on-demand, similar to ride sharing services.

"You use an app, like an Uber app based on GPS, or you call the toll free number using your iPhone, your Android or your laptop and you tell them where you are. And they'll pick you up at that spot," said Pembroke's Deputy Mayor Brian Abdallah in an interview with CTV News.

"And if someone is along the way, and they're before you, they'll pick you up also, so it's actually a quicker system."

The proposal is for a three-year pilot project, which would see two buses taking part in the project on city streets. The transit service pilot will exclude the existing Pembroke and Laurentian Valley Handi-Bus service, which will continue to operate normally.

Abdallah says the system is based off of a model currently being used in North Grenville, Ont.

An on-demand transit pilot project is also being conducted in the Blackburn Hamlet neighbourhood of Ottawa, where riders can request a bus anytime between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays and select holidays.

Timmins, Ont. and other municipalities across Ontario have also tested a similar model.

"This is a total turnkey operation. So the transit provider would be responsible for the buses and staffing, the software and the maintenance," Abdallah said.

Aside from the bus fare, public transit does come at a price. The City of Pembroke is projecting an average cost of approximately $950,000 per year for the pilot project, paid for by an annual 1.2 percent tax increase over three years.

As for the hop on, hop off cost, "In my opinion, North Grenville charges $5 a ride. So I think that would be a fair amount, maybe $4.50," Abdallah said.

If the proposal for the pilot project comes back on or under budget, the city is expecting the transit system to be up and running by April 2025.

A 2021 transit feasibility survey found that 61 per cent out of 871 residents who responded said they expected to use transit. 71 per cent expect other people they know would use transit and 72 per cent would support an average property tax increase of $25 a year per household.

But some residents, like Joe Young, the owner of Valley Taxi in Pembroke, say the introduction of a public transit system could be detrimental to his and similar businesses in the city.

"I know that it's going to definitely start taking away local calls that may only be in the regular fare of $5.50," he said.

"Most people are doing groceries and doctor's appointments. It's a pretty small town here in Pembroke."

Consensus also seems to be split among residents as to whether a public transit system would be welcomed.

"I think it would really be helpful for a lot of seniors that don't maybe have transit," said Judith Buchanan, who added she would not take a local bus, as she already drives her vehicle.

"It's never a bad thing to have public transportation for anyone," said Alexander Fleming, a student at Pembroke's Algonquin College campus.

"I see a lot of students walking from the residential buildings all the way down here. So I don't think it's a bad thing at all."

"I don't see public transit as useful," said resident Christopher Dunn. "I think it's going to cost the taxpayers too much money."

Dunn remarked that with shopping and groceries available at both the west and east end malls, and in downtown, it would likely be a cost residents would be unwilling to pay.

"What are they going to charge for the bus? Five bucks to get on? People aren't going to do it. They're going to expect it to be $1 or $1.50," Dunn said. Top Stories

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