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Regional bus service gets provincial funding

A regional transit service could be up and running this fall. The provincial government has given the County of Grande Prairie a nearly $640,000 grant that will be used to start up a bus service that will connect Sexsmith, Clairmont, Wembley, Beaverlodge, and Hythe with the City of Grande Prairie’s transit system.

Alberta’s 2018 budget included a Rural Transportation Pilot Program, and Grande Prairie was named as a target hub at the time. County Reeve Leanne Beaupre says the region has been working on filling the rural service gap for some time.

“I think it will give an opportunity for those that don’t necessarily drive as often or are in need of transportation to and from the City of Grande Prairie into the other municipalities… and even those who are concerned about their ecological footprint, I think this will give them an opportunity to reduce that.”

Transportation Minister Brian Mason announced the funding Thursday. He says the government is looking at intermunicipal projects already in the works to connect rural areas and smaller towns to larger regional centres like Grande Prairie.

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“So that people can have access to medical appointments, shopping opportunities, and visit family and friends,” he explains. “We’re trying to break down some of the isolation that sometimes happens when people don’t have a car but they live in a rural or small town environment.”

Mason maintains the issue of rural public transportation was raised before and during the last provincial election, largely stemming from Greyhound cutting some of its routes that weren’t profitable.

The pilot project will cover the service for two years, at which time Mason says the province will look at the results to decide whether to continue it long-term. He says they’ll be interested to hear whether it improved connections between the communities and if enough people used the service to justify the expense.

“That’s the thing,” Mason admits. “We can’t subsidize empty vehicles, that’s for sure. One of the tests, and it’s very important, is whether or not there’s a real utilization of the programs. If there is, then I’m confident we’re going to continue to be able to support them.”

The bus for the new service will be bought by the County using provincial and federal GreenTRIP funding. Beaupre says the first phase should be rolled out this fall.

“It’s going to go from Sexsmith and Clairmont into the City of Grande Prairie and the next phase will be the remaining municipalities.”

The Municipal District of Spirit River has also been given $200,000 from the same fund to increase its Family and Community Support Service van service between Spirit River, Rycroft and Grande Prairie from one day a month to three days a week.

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