La Connexion Rural – Rural Transit

For almost as long as Providence has been in its current location (about 40 years), people have been talking about the need for a shuttle-bus system. Providence is 40 minutes south of Winnipeg—close enough to commute, but far enough away to feel isolated.

In 2009, business students decided to research the feasibility of setting up a shuttle-bus system for Providence. After a lot of planning, market research and number crunching, it became clear that Providence didn’t have enough demand to create a viable shuttle system on its own.

So the Buller Centre and the students from Providence business program began talking with seniors’ support groups and economic development people in De Salaberry—the Rural Municipality where Providence is. Together with the community, students and staff from the Buller Centre developed a plan that does seem financially viable.

It would combine transportation to seniors with a shuttle system for Providence. This transit system would be open to the public, would be wheel-chair accessible, and would serve the communities along the Highway 59 South corridor–Providence, Otterburne, St. Malo, St-Pierre-Jolys, and Île-des-Chênes.

Vehicles Required

We project that, to adequately serve our community, this shuttle system will require two buses.

A Van

One should be a smaller van, holding roughly 9 passengers, with space for a wheelchair. Much like this one:

http://www.wheelchairgetaways.com/classifieds_view.php?id=952

A Small Bus

The other should be somewhat larger, holding roughly 19 passengers, again with space for a wheelchair:

http://getanybus.informe.com/gallery/Inventory/SDC16930.JPG.html

Of course, these pictures are not meant to represent the vehicles our project must have, only that there are vehicles which meet our requirements available on both the new and used markets.

Vehicle Advantages

These vehicles have a number of important advantages that help make this system viable:

  • Both can be used by passengers with wheelchairs, enabling this service to provide rural handi-transit.
  • Both can be driven by people holding Class 4 licenses. This means that it is realistic for us to draw our drivers from a pool of recently-retired professional drivers in our area, and for students to do the driving, (provided they have or can get their Class 4 license, of course).
  • Parking and vehicle access is much less problematic than it would be for full-sized buses.
  • Moving to hybrid electric vehicles may be realistic at some point in the near future.

At this point, there is probably not an available electric hybrid vehicle that meets our needs. However, the intention isn’t to begin this transit system with hybrids. Once we are ready to make that move—perhaps 5 years form now—this technology will be more mature.

Our hope would be that, once this system is running, we could be a testing and demonstration site for these newer technologies. In particular, because the Small Bus is scheduled to sit during the day and overnight, it would be an ideal route to test vehicles which need to be plugged in and recharged frequently.

Draft Schedule

Based on consultations with community members, we have also developed a draft schedule: draft_schedule

Ridership

Based on discussions with potential users, we think that a two-tiered system is the most viable:

  • Subscription
    • one price if you commit well ahead of time to riding on a specific days and times
  • Casual
    • another price if you want more flexibility

Subscription Price

We believe we will get adequate ridership if we can keep the Subscription Price low—in the range of $5 for a one-way trip.

Our plan is to have the Subscription Price be the same no matter whether the trip is short (i.e.: from Ile des Chenes to the St Vital Mall) or long (i.e. from Saint Malo to the St Boniface Hospital).

It will also be the same price no matter the age of the rider, or whether or not they are a student. This price will be attractive, we believe, because it is a competitive alternative to one or two people sharing the cost of gas to make the trip.

For this to work, Subscription Price would have to be purchased and paid at least one week in advance, and the seat would be reserved. If the person didn’t use the seat, they would not get a refund.

Typically, these will be commuters who know they need to be at a certain place at a certain time either every day or every week.

We expect that Subscription riders will be the bulk of our market, at least initially.

Casual Price

All non-subscription riders would be charged a Casual Price. We think a price of $7 to $8 per one-way trip will attract a modest (but still significant) number of riders.

This price would apply if someone made a decision to chose to catch a bus, but either weren’t a subscriber, or if they hadn’t reserved a seat for the particular trip they wanted to take.

We expect that we will be able to have an average of 6 riders on the van trips (the smaller vehicle), and 11 on the small bus (the larger vehicle) trips.

Draft Budget

The draft budget has been developed:

This budget and draft schedule is also available to view at Google Docs.

This budget is for a four-month test-run of this system, to determine if this is a viable idea.

Recent Developments

Until March 2012, for a transit system of this sort to be started, it needed permission from Manitoba’s Motor Transport Board. This Board is appointed by the provincial government, but it makes its decisions independently, and there is no mechanism for appealing those decisions to the provincial government. We met with members of the Board and its staff in 2011 to discuss our plans.

We were not able to convince them that our plan should go ahead, even as a pilot project. They did say that we were welcome to make an application, but indicated that they have not been approving applications of this sort. They indicated that, in their view, new services of this sort would damage the financial health of the current bus industry in Manitoba by increasing supply when demand is flat. They also indicated that their process included a mechanism for established carriers to raise any objections they might have to new proposals.

They suggested that the first step in making an application would be to consult with already-established carriers to see if any of them would be interested in providing this service. This, in their view, would reduce the likelihood of established carriers objecting to our plans.

In the Fall 2011 semester, business students researched and compiled a contact list of as many potential carriers as they could find—more than two dozen. In January, 2012, we wrote and distributed a Request for Expressions of Interest to these carriers interested. We heard back from a small number (roughly half a dozen); none were interested in providing this service.

Then, in March 2012, the provincial government announced changes to the regulations. Developed in response to public consultations, these changes could well be revolutionary to the feasibility of rural transit initiatives in Manitoba. The initial details of these regulatory changes are outlined here. Essentially, they eliminate the Motor Transport Board’s role as gatekeeper for businesses and community groups wanting to set up rural transit systems like ours.

In July, 2012, the provincial government implemented these changes.

In Fall 2012, the Director of Providence’s Buller Centre (Bruce Duggan) and students from the Business/Government Relations class of Providence’s Business Administration program met with staff from Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, the provincial government department with jurisdiction on this issue. We outlined our ideas for a rural transit system in our area; they outlined the process that led to the recent regulatory changes, and the approach they were taking to supporting businesses and community organizations that want to set up busing systems in rural Manitoba. It was a very positive conversation.

In November 2012, the Director met with Providence’s Vice-President for FInance (John Laugesen) to discuss the feasibility of using the 14-passenger van currently owned by Providence, as the smaller vehicle required for this project. Although this van is not ideal, because it does not have a wheelchair lift, it might be feasible to use as during a pilot project period–perhaps for one semester.

In December 2012, the Director met with Providence’s insurance provider to develop a better understanding of what would be needed for this project to go ahead. It appears that an arrangement of this sort would be somewhat challenging to set up, but not impossible. To work:

  • The rural transit project would have to be set up as a separately-incorporated entity–either as a for-profit corporation, or a co-op.
  • MPI Commercial Vehicles Branch would have to issue a Public Service Vehicle (PSV) license plate for the van.
  • A Safety Fitness Certificate from Transport Canada for the van.
  • A lease agreement between Providence and the rural transit project for the lease of the van would need to be signed. This agreement would have to meet both Providence’s needs, and the needs of the rural transit project. Ideally, this would be a lease that would keep the van available for use by Providence when it was not being used by the rural transit project.
  • The van would need $2,000,000 automobile liability insurance.
  • The rural transit project would also need liability insurance for its activities.

In January, 2013, members of the Non-Profit Management class at Providence took up this project.

Next Steps

Among the steps that have to be taken are:

  • Securing use of a second, larger vehicle.
  • Setting up the project as a legal entity–most likely a co-op.
  • Convincing interested organizations and people to join the co-op.
  • Working with a lawyer to review the draft leasing contracts, and any other required documents.
  • Negotiating the terms of those agreements.
  • Applying for funding to the provincial government–most likely through the Small Communities Transit Fund (http://www.gov.mb.ca/ia/bldgcomm/sctf.html).
  • Securing the Safety Fitness Certificates and the Public Service Vehicle licenses for the vehicles.
  • Confirming and expanding community support for the project.
  • Setting up the management systems for
    • accounting
    • rider scheduling and payment
    • driver licensing, scheduling and payment

These steps are not listed in order, and there are many other steps that need to be taken as well before the transit system can actually run–marketing, for example. This list is intended as the “must do” list required to clear

Likely Effects

This partial deregulation of the bus carrier system in Manitoba has the potential to:

  • improve access to transit for rural Manitobans
  • improve the quality of life for seniors and people with disabilities living in rural Manitoba
  • encourage new rural businesses to start up, and existing businesses to expand
  • increase cooperation between rural organizations and institutions (including, in our case, building connections between Providence students and seniors in our area)
  • reduce greenhouse gases by moving at least some commuters from cars to buses

Given these new regulations, all of these important benefits can be achieved without compromising road or passenger safety.

Relevent Links

Future Potential

If this project proves viable, it could be expanded to include nearby communities.

It could also be used as a demonstration project for rural transit elsewhere—including elsewhere in Manitoba. First, however we have to demonstrate the viability of this first phase.

Be Part of this Project

If you think this is a valuable initiative and want to be part of making it happen, Post a Comment below. We’ll contact you and get you involved.