By Jenn Watt
Compared to many in Haliburton County I don’t drive much. My commute is barely long enough for me to hear a single song on the car radio before I’m safely parked at work. In fact the walk from the Head Lake parking lot across Highland Street to the Echo office likely takes me longer than the drive does. (I’ll save my annual crosswalk plea for later.)
So when I got an email last month from Tina Jackson of Rural Transportation Options about the Haliburton Transit Challenge I didn’t think I was a good example of that need.
However as March plodded along the challenge kept popping into my head. Jackson had asked that we take a week to record how much we were driving and what the cost of that travel would be if we were no longer able to use our vehicles.
I got my act together too late and ended up recording travel during the first week of April. Still I figured the practice was worth it.
From Monday to Thursday morning I drove back and forth from home to work – about two kilometres each way. In the first three days of the week I’d gone 12 km. Information from Rural Transportation Options said taxi rides cost $2 per kilometre. In three days that would have been $24. Still relatively affordable.
On Thursday evening however things changed. I had a newspaper conference in Vaughan to attend – about 200 km each way. Suddenly that taxi fare wasn’t looking so easy to stomach.
Although this is outside the purview of the transit challenge or the abilities of county council to solve our current options for getting out of this county are bad. Had I needed to take transit to Vaughan I don’t know where I would have started. Perhaps the Can-Ar coach bus that leaves from the gas station at 8 a.m.? I would have missed an extra day of work and would have had to find a connecting bus from Lindsay with untold extra cost.
On Sunday I went about my errands putting another six or seven kilometres on my car.
In the end my experience was on the easier end of transportation options. I live close to work and close to shopping. Many people I know drive at least 20 km to and from work each day.
Other than forming informal agreements with fellow commuters for rides they have no options to get to work other than with their vehicle. Taxis would not be a practical long-term solution.
Jackson said for those who end up without a car for various reasons there are few options available. Some businesses have made arrangements to help their employees get to work; some people rely on bicycles or snowmobiles; others risk a traffic ticket and drive without a licence or in cars that aren’t in good repair.
“Oftentimes though the result of not having suitable and affordable transportation results in withdrawal from (or lack of entrance into) the labour market” Jackson said in an email.
Haliburton County council is expected to discuss options for a new transportation option as early as this month.
If nothing else the transportation challenge illustrates how few alternatives we currently have and the obstacles to employment for those who can’t afford a car or aren’t able to drive.
The problem is huge and daunting but we need to start somewhere. Hopefully county councillors set the wheels in motion soon.