Municipalities in the Grande Prairie region are looking to take advantage of a pilot project included in the 2018 Alberta budget. A rural transportation pilot program has been launched, and Grande Prairie has been named by both Transportation Minister Brian Mason and Minister for the Status of Women Stephanie McLean as a target hub.
The City and County of Grande Prairie are working with the towns of Beaverlodge, Wembley, and Sexsmith, and the Village of Hythe to apply for the provincial grant, which would cover the first two years. Wembley mayor Chris Turnmire says this will be key for older residents and those without vehicles.
“Not everybody wants to drive into the city and get around and I think this is a way they can hop on the bus, they’ll get dropped off at two or three major centres, do their business, and they’ll have a scheduled time they’ll be picked up and they don’t have to worry about driving.”
Beaverlodge mayor Gary Rycroft agrees that seniors will likely benefit from more public transportation. He says he hears complaints no matter the time of year.
“Public transportation’s a little thin out in the rural areas,” he notes. “A lot of people [are concerned about] the cost of owning a vehicle, the cost of operating a vehicle; everybody’s worried about the environment, and they think, ‘if I can avoid that…'”
If approved, just how much funding the municipalities will get for the pilot project will depend on how big it is. A Grande Prairie city transit bus was driven through Clairmont, Beaverlodge, Hythe, Sexsmith and Wembley earlier in March to get an idea of how long routes could take.
“We’re going to keep our fingers crossed that we get the approval and then be able to go forward and map it out as to what it would really look like,” explains Turnmire. “I think lots of people have lots of ideas about how it should look and how it should operate.”
Public consultation would be part of the project, and after the two years, the communities will have to decide whether they want to continue with the rural bus routes.