MORRISBURG — There needs to be more transportation links available for residents in the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry. If you live in a rural community, and you need to get somewhere, you must have a car. Otherwise you are stuck using the most expensive form of transportation, taxis. This needs to change.
The United Counties had in 2011, according to Statistics Canada, a population of 111,164. This includes the 46,340 people living in Cornwall proper. There are currently two railway stations in use in SD&G, Alexandria and Cornwall. Outside of Cornwall, there is no bus service except for the odd commuter bus service to downtown Ottawa. Unless you own a car, or can borrow a car, you are stuck in your own village or town.
While that doesn’t sound all that bad, many who live in rural areas do so because they do not want to live in the city, services are mostly located in the cities.
A year ago, I got to meet a grandmother, who was raising her two grandchildren on her own, we’ll call her “Shirley”. Shirley was not sure if she was going to be able to register her kids in the local youth soccer program because she cannot drive, and the soccer program is in Iroquois, 10km away. Thankfully she was able to find a ride for the kids to get to the soccer field, but listening to her issues about getting from place to place was eye-opening. I never thought of going 10km down the road as being a challenge because I’ve had a car since I was 16.
Getting around in SD&G used to be a lot easier. From 1855 until 1962, the train stopped in every community along the tracks, from Iroquois to Lancaster, Mountain to Green Valley. If you wanted to go from Iroquois to Cornwall, you could hop on the train and be back the same day.
Buses started to take over in the 1930’s and by 1962, CN and CP had stopped local service except at Alexandria and Cornwall. In researching this column, I could not find a county bus system ever being set up, or anything other than Voyager Bus Lines service. A search on Google resulted in one bus company stating there was a bus stop in Morrisburg, yet I could not find a way of booking a ticket to or from Morrisburg.
The county needs a bus service. Given the size of the county, the population of the county, it is something that is needed. In comparison, St. Lawrence County in New York State has approximately the same population as SD&G, with twice the physical area. They operate daily, twice, and thrice-weekly bus service between their major villages and towns, from the St. Lawrence River to the Adirondack Mountains and most points between.
The United Counties has money that comes from the Federal government via the gasoline tax, as does the City of Cornwall. That would provide some of the funds to start and maintain the system. The rest of the funds would come from the fare box. Those I have talked to, like the aforementioned Shirley would rather pay four or five dollars one way for a bus, than sixty dollars one-way to go to Cornwall to see a specialist.
If the counties were to do this, and get each of the six municipalities on board, plus the City of Cornwall, the work to start a system is not as hard as it may seem. Each municipality has a municipal garage which service heavy trucks and equipment. Those mechanics and workers can look after transit equipment with minimal additional training. Villages such as Iroquois, Morrisburg, Ingleside & Long Sault already have shopping plazas so there would be no need for any fancy bus stops, just a bench and a sign. Even in areas such as Mountain, South Mountain, Winchester, Chesterville, and so on, a bench and a sign, and a simple wood frame shelter of four poles and a roof is all that is required.
Used buses can be bought cheaply to get started, and only upgrade once the service grows.
It would mean taking the gas tax money that is normally used for road budgets, and putting it into transit. That was the original purpose of having the gas tax money going to municipalities, for transit.
Having a municipal transit system for the county, that ties into the City of Cornwall, will help many people from students to the elderly. It would mean that people are not tied to the community they live in just because they can’t afford a car.
A trip to Cornwall to the doctors shouldn’t cost someone a week’s worth of groceries.