ARICHAT: In the wake of reduced service linked to a lack of additional municipal funds from Richmond County, municipal councillors have voted to ask senior staff to see if the latest funding request from Strait Area Transit (SAT) can be met within the current municipal budget.

The transit cooperative had scaled back its weekly Dial-A-Ride service in Richmond County from 60 hours to 20 hours in early August, eliminating service in the St. Peter’s-L’Ardoise area in light of the municipality’s rejection of SAT’s pitch to increase its annual funding share from a previous contribution of $37,666 to $79,980.

However, in mid-September, municipal officials agreed to forward the municipality’s monthly payment for October to SAT, allowing its vehicles to resume limited pick-ups in St. Peter’s and River Bourgeois for those requiring transportation for work and education commitments.

Against this backdrop, SAT board chair Jim Mustard and staffers Jessie MacDonald and Malcolm MacPhail appeared before the September 26 regular meeting of council, launching a 45-minute discussion that ended with unanimous approval of Louisdale-area councillor Brian Marchand’s motion to direct Richmond County’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and Department of Finance to determine the potential for the county to meet SAT’s newest funding request.

“We know that it’s hard to go back to the bank and shake down more money,” said Mustard, who told Marchand that a two-week timeframe should be sufficient to determine Richmond’s funding role in the transit operation.

“But it’s critical that we consistently offer the service… If we’re serious about transit and doing a really good evaluation of this as a team, as funding partners, these next few months are going to be critical.”

MacDonald, who joined the SAT staff this past spring, stressed that the recent loss of service in parts of Richmond County is already having an impact on seniors attempting to keep medical appointments, students within the public school system and the NSCC Strait Area Campus, and a wide variety of residents who have come to depend on the service for their day-to-day lives.

“We have seniors that want to visit loved ones in nursing homes, and they can’t,” MacDonald reported, pointing to the current limits of the Dial-A-Ride schedule as a detriment to those who depend on the system the most.

“Most seniors don’t want to get on the bus at 7 a.m. to go visit a loved one and come back at 4 in the afternoon. It’s not really feasible.”

While River Bourgeois-area councillor Gilbert Boucher declared that he “fully supports” SAT, he warned that an increase in Richmond’s financial contribution could add another cent to the county’s municipal tax rates. However, outgoing Evanston-area councillor Shirley McNamara suggested that the county has failed to live up to its initial commitment to the eight-year-old transit co-operative.

“We let you down, and we let you down severely,” McNamara told the SAT delegation.

“Quite frankly, if we want transit, we pay for it, and if we don’t want transit, we tell the public we don’t want transit, and we should be honest and up front about it.”