UMIT continues to move forward toward launch of local bus routes

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M’CHIGEENG – United Manitoulin Islands Transit (UMIT) board members continue to hold meetings every two weeks as they look forward to a June launch of preliminary bus routes with the main run from Mindemoya to Little Current and taxis feeding into this route from other communities.

As reported in the Island’s newspapers, Joahnna Berti of Tehkummah has been selected from a roster of applicants for the position of executive director of UMIT. Ms. Berti’s previous job was that of the administrative director of the Debajehmujig Theatre Group, based in Manitowaning.

UMIT president Guy Dumas met with the owner of A.J. Bus Lines and told the members that the service provider’s rate will be $55/hour up to $85. “He is retrofitting his bus to serve our purposes,” Mr. Dumas said. He went on to say that the retrofit will allow bike racks, electronic equipment and three cameras to be installed to ensure safety for the driver and passengers and that it will take nine weeks to get this work done. Mr. Dumas also stated that consultant Wally Beck is working with A.J. Bus Lines to decide on a type of system to use for fare collection. For example, scan cards could be used or tickets could be purchased in advance and dropped into a ticket box.

The project manager for the bus system will be John Shames s who has worked with A.J. Bus Lines for 36 years and has worked in all areas of the business. He is presently the president and owner of the business that has 109 routes with five school boards, runs the transit system for Elliot Lake, provides service from that municipality to Highway 17 to hook up with Ontario Northland and has contracts with the Sudbury Student Services Consortium and the Algoma and Huron Superior Transportation Services Consortium. The business has 140 vehicles, including seven motor coaches.

A.J. Bus Lines has fully trained drivers, all current in first aid training, and all are road tested and evaluated by instructors every two years. They are required to attend a defensive driving course every three years and their attendance at safety meetings is tracked. These meetings cover bus evacuation, accident procedures, Code1 radio calls, epi-pens, WHMIS, discipline and late bus or routing reviews. Many of these drivers have received awards from the Transportation Health and Safety Association of Ontario (THSAO) for decades of accident-free driving.

Mr. Dumas was pleased to report to the UMIT board that the money that has been invested by March of Dimes Canada for the transit project will be an in-kind donation and therefore there is no requirement to pay it back. He also expressed his gratitude to Kenjgewin Teg for the use of the college boardroom for UMIT meetings.

Mr. Dumas also spoke of his talks with transit consultant Mr. Beck and progress on the service agreement with A.J. Bus Lines. The capital cost, vehicle cost and fuel show a cost of $64.75/hour for a used vehicle and just over $71 for a new vehicle. UMIT would have to go with a used vehicle to keep a June launch date and are looking at a $400 per day service, keeping in mind that the bus driver’s compensation would have to be good to keep that employee engaged.

Mr. Dumas also told the board that he has asked Municipality of Central Manitoulin CAO/clerk Ruth Frawley to contact an insurance company to make an agreement to cover the UMIT board and that the consultant will update the agreement that the transit committee has with the province and will provide Ms. Frawley with those changes. 

UMIT formed two committees. The first is the finance liaison committee with members Ms. Berti, Rose Shawanda and Central Manitoulin Councillor Steve Shaffer, and the second, a by-law committee with Ms. Berti, Mr. Dumas and Ms. Shawanda filling the positions.

On March 26, the UMIT board held a teleconference call meeting with Mr. Dumas explaining firstly that Mr. Beck had updated the contract with A.J. Bus Lines including proposed routes, but noted that the transit start-up date may have to be changed due to COVID-19.

UMIT will continue to hold talks with A.J. Bus Lines and with taxi companies that will provide feeder services from outlying communities to hook up with the main bus route from Mindemoya to Little Current. Mr. Beck suggested that UMIT go with the services of A-1 Taxi Company as he considered it the best of the four on the Island, but Mr. Dumas felt that at least two taxi companies should be employed. Ms. Berti will speak with all the companies to see about having two taxi services employed.

Mr. Dumas then talked about the survey done when Ontario Northland had bus routes on Manitoulin and it was found that the bus was being used mostly by older folks who were going to the hospital or shopping.

Ms. Berti also told the board members that she will set up a website and contribute UMIT information to Facebook.

As well, UMIT welcomed new board members Maja Mielonen of Mindemoya, Marie McGregor-Pitawanakwat of Wiikwemkoong and Val McIntyre of Aundeck Omni Kaning.