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Elliot Lake bus service: New study finds good and not-so-good

A research study of Elliot Lake’s public transit was shared in an online presentation Wednesday.  Participants from across Ontario included some Elliot Lake citizens and city staff

During 2023, researcher, Rachel Barber, conducted a study of Elliot Lake’s public bus service. The study found many good features and some not-so-good issues. The focus of the study was “adult healthcare access via public transportation in Elliot Lake.”

Barber is a PhD student with a Master of Planning degree. Her interests include “age-friendly communities, shrinking cities, and ‘left behind places' with a focus on small cities and rural communities.”

“For older adults who are unable to drive, barrier-free public transportation to healthcare facilities is crucial in ensuring they have the ability to access healthcare appointments,” she told the online participants.

The webinar is timely for bringing this matter to the attention of Elliot Lake citizens.

On July 10, 2023, Elliot Lake City Council authorized the expenditure of $57,588.00 plus HST for a consultant's transit review. That review and that consultant are not connected to Barber’s study.

The RFP for council's contracted transit review specifies public consultation. “Deliverable 1: Service Delivery Review including Community & Stakeholder Consultation.”

To date, the status of the transit review has not been communicated to the public, and dates for public consultation have not been announced. ElliotLakeToday reached out to Interim CAO Rob deBortoli on Wednesday for an update. Up to the time of publication, a reply has not been received.

During the webinar presentation, Wednesday, Barber noted that walking to a bus stop is often overlooked in transportation considerations.

“It's important to find ways to facilitate active transportation in our communities since many older adults must use a form of active transportation, such as walking, to access nearby destinations, services or activities, or even the nearest bus stop for healthcare.”

While this winter has been an unusual winter with relatively little snow in Elliot Lake, the clearing of snow from bus stops has been an issue raised by the public in the past.

Barber also noted that in 2017, Elliot Lake “published an age-friendly action plan, and they also became a member of the World Health Organization Global Network for age Friendly Cities and Communities in 2018.”

She described Elliot Lake’s public transportation system as “four bus routes that run on an hourly service. There are 117 bus stops in Elliot Lake, and its bus fleet is composed of three mini busses.”

“There's also the Handilift accessible transit service available in Elliot Lake for those who are unable to use the regular bus or are unable to walk 150 meters. But this is a service that must be booked at least seven days in advance.”

The matter of booking seven days in advance came up during a Q&A after the presentation.

An Elliot Lake resident asked, “How does the Handilift service work with the regular bus service?”

“The way that it works is that it's actually separate from the regular transit system. So essentially how it works is that if someone is unable to walk 150 meters, or if they're unable to use the regular busses, they're able to call in and essentially request that a Handilift transit bus come to their location to pick them up,” Barber explained.

She added, “However, the one downside currently of the Handilift transit service is that you have to book the service seven days in advance.”

ElliotLakeToday asked, “What do you suggest as a reasonable timeframe for booking ahead for the Handilift services?”

Barber responded, noting financial feasibility and ridership but added, “I think that seven days in advance is definitely too long. I do think that is something that needs to be looked into.”

“You might not be able to call for Handilift transit and get it within 30 minutes, but I would say maybe even, 24 hours or 48 hours would be a lot better than the current seven days.”

ELT reached out to Mr. Norman Mann, in his capacity related to the Handilift transit, and asked about the 7 day requirement. Mann told ELT, "There is no 7 day requirement. We encourage it. And the only reason being, is because there's only one unit on the road at any one time."

Mann continued, "You can call 'day of,' or with 24 hours notice, but of course, the opportunity for appointments is much more limited. We have spots and people can book weeks in advance for an appointment. However, the closer you get to the actual day, and especially in the winter with inclement weather, it becomes a little bit challenging. So, we can always add appointments next day. And we do. But again, it's more of 'an encourage' as opposed to 'a required.'"

Barber also pointed out many positives of the regular bus service including, that Elliot Lake has a bus service. “During the time of this study, there were only ten communities in northern Ontario that provided a public transit service, and Elliot Lake was the third smallest community that provided that service in northern Ontario.”

And the bus stop at the ELNOS building, 31 Nova Scotia Walk, was found a model-good bus stop.

“It's a fantastic example of an age-friendly bus stop. The bus stop was located directly outside the main entrance, which made for a short walking route, and there was also a bus shelter, adequate lighting, and benches. This bus stop has been recommended to be used as a universal bus stop design for other bus stops in Elliot Lake.”

However, at the other end of the examples, the two bus stops at St. Joseph’s hospital were alternately described as “pretty far from the hospital’s entrance” with “poor lighting on the walk to the bus stop, as well as a steep incline.” The other bus stop, across Spine Road, “no bus shelter, poor lighting, a steep incline … quite busy road [with] no crosswalks, stoplights or street calming features.”

Later, speaking generally about opportunities for improvement, Barber summarized, “There were a lot of age-friendly features that were either absent in Elliot Lake or that were being inconsistently used across Elliot Lake.”

Barber also addressed the matter of the rough ride passengers have reported experiencing.

“Another issue that I had encountered during my audit was an issue with the shock absorption on the busses. When the bus encountered a bump in the road, the bus would vibrate, including the seats, which caused a vibration to be felt in the passenger's back.”

“And the wheelchair-accessible seat at the back of the busses would violently shake, which created loud noises as well.”

“It was interesting to see residents of Elliot Lake trying to have conversations on the bus, but kind of having to yell over the noise and over the vibrations and everything. So, I think it's an issue that everyone notices."

“I'm not sure if the city of Elliot Lake was planning on fixing this issue or if they're aware of it, but it's definitely something that was experienced on the bus - on any of the busses that I did end up taking throughout my stay in Elliot Lake.”

“So, that's why I wanted to kind of bring it to the city's attention as well, to make sure that that is a priority for them.”

Barber concluded, “So, as a conclusion to this study, despite severe urban shrinkage, Elliot Lake provides a transit service with excellent coverage and many age-friendly features to improve the age-friendliness of the public transportation experience. Elliot Lake should implement a universal, age-friendly bus stop design … as well as a universal design for walking paths surrounding bus stops.

“The city should also select a more age-friendly bus model for future fleets.”

On Feb. 27, 2023, Elliot Lake City Council authorized the purchase of 3 new buses for $439,500 plus HST. They arrived a few weeks ago. The buses are the same design as those being replaced.

Local public transportation advocates were caught by surprise when the recommendation came to council in an addendum.

The City’s procedural bylaw specifies that council and committee agenda are posted two business days in advance of the meeting however, addendum items are added to the agenda package as late as the afternoon of the scheduled meeting.


Stephen Calverley

About the Author: Stephen Calverley

Stephen loves the outdoors and municipal life. He writes to inform readers and encourage citizen participation.
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