Council responds to transit concerns

Sam Odrowski

Fort Frances Council received a letter in late January from a group of citizens requesting upgrades to the town’s transit system.

The letter raises two issues: the lack of bus services within the town; and the need for a district wide bus service that extends to Winnipeg and Thunder Bay.

“The [town’s Community Services Executive] Committee spent a considerable amount of time discussing these two issues,” noted Coun. Andrew Hallikas who is a member, at Monday night’s council meeting.

“Council and administration have been very active over the years lobbying the provincial and federal governments to step up and provide increased bus service within the Rainy River District, and between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg.”

Coun. Hallikas said as recently as January of this year, town delegates delivered a presentation at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference in Toronto specific to transportation issues in the town and region.

Mayor June Caul told the Times concerns surrounding local transportation were also brought forward to the transportation minister when she was still a councillor.

And while Ontario Northland Bus Service has announced it’s expanding and will begin making stops in Thunder Bay this spring, it won’t quite reach the town.

“Hopefully with continued lobbying, this service can be expanded to include Fort Frances and the district,” Coun. Hallikas remarked.

New Gold’s Vice President and general manager of the Rainy River mine, Eric Vinet said if there was a Greyhound style bus that could transport people from Winnipeg or Thunder Bay to Fort Frances, the company would use it.

“It’s just that we’re kind of stretching–we’re in the middle of two poles: Thunder Bay and Winnipeg, with not much in between to service the people,” he noted.

In regards to the letter pertaining to local transit that was signed by nearly 50 people and recommends using the same type of bus used by Arrowhead Transit in International Falls, Mn., Coun. Hallikas noted the town already has something similar in place.

“Presently within the Town of Fort Frances the Dial-a-Ride service is available to all residents of the town and operates under the same parameters as the Arrowhead Bus Service that was referenced in the letter,” he explained.

“Dial-a-Ride is modelled after that transit system and runs from one end of the town to the other every hour.”

For Dial-a-Ride, users are asked to call 15 minutes in advance and fees range from $2.50 for adults to $1.25 for children, and no charge for those under the age of four.

“Our Dial-a-Ride service is well used and presently is the most economical way that we can provide public transportation at this time,” Coun. Hallikas said.

He also noted that Handi-Van is a transit service in the town for people with mobility issues or require wheel chairs.

However, it seems unlikely that any additional forms of transportation will take shape in Fort Frances anytime soon, according to Coun. Hallikas.

“Expanding the local bus system is not really an option right now, particularly with the town facing a loss of assessment due to the closing of the mill, a shortfall in our operating budget, and the possibility of increased taxes due to this,” he explained.

“Council administration will continue to lobby the provincial and federal governments for a regional bus service for our district.”