The province says it will provide more travel options in underserved areas in the northwest.
Northern Development and Mines minister Michael Gravelle and Transportation minister Steven Del Duca, alongside Thunder Bay-Atikokan MPP Bill Mauro, announced Friday in Thunder Bay that the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission will work in collaboration with existing private carriers, such as Kasper Transportation, to introduce or increase bus service to regional communities.
The communities that will benefit from this collaboration include Fort Frances, Atikokan, Emo, Rainy River, Hearst, Hornepayne, White River, Red Lake, Red Rock, and others.
The province said return service will be offered five days a week between all communities serviced by the ONTC (an operational enterprise agency of the province providing inter-community bus, passenger rail, rail freight, and remanufacturing and repair services in Northern Ontario) or private carriers.
“The Ontario Northland Transportation Commission connects communities and residents to essential services in Northern Ontario,” noted Gravelle.
“Investing in service options through the ONTC, and in collaboration with private carriers, demonstrates the province's commitment to increasing travel options in underserved areas,” he added.
“Our government is committed to building stronger communities by making transportation options more convenient and better connected,” said Del Duca.
“This funding will help more people in rural and remote areas get to and from their appointments, access important services, and maintain an active and independent lifestyle,” he remarked.
“I am pleased that our government is improving inter-community bus services for northern municipalities,” echoed Mauro.
“Having a reliable transportation system in smaller remote communities will enhance the quality of life for northern residents who will now have access to services, medical facilities, and family in other communities.”
Kasper Wabinski, owner of Kasper Transportation, could not be reached for comment by the Times.
However, in a Dec. 2 article in the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal, Wabinski was quoted as saying they'll soon be expanding to offer service in Fort Frances, Kenora, and Red Lake, as well as extending its current service from Longlac to Hearst to connect with ONTC.
Kasper currently offers service from Thunder Bay to Longlac and Sioux Lookout, and from Sioux Lookout to Winnipeg.
“It's great news for us to be able to work with ONTC so we're not in it alone,” Wabinski told the Chronicle-Journal.
“It's challenging to build a transportation business in Northern Ontario, where the [population] numbers aren't necessarily up like in big cities but the need is still there, so sometimes you have to be creative,” he added.
Wabinski noted the plan eventually is to have it so bus routes will connect from the north all the way to southern Ontario.
The province is investing $5.2 million in new buses and technology enhancements to improve inter-community bus services delivered through the ONTC.
Friday's announcement also included the launch of a new Community Transportation Grant Program to “help municipalities, indigenous communities, and other organizations throughout the province provide more travel options in areas that are not served, or underserved, by public transit and inter-community bus.”
With the Community Transportation Grant Program, up to $30 million over five years is available to municipalities, who can apply for grants starting last Friday.
An additional $10 million will be available to indigenous communities, indigenous-led organizations, and not-for-profit organizations starting in the summer of 2018.