Local transportation shortage in small towns prompts group to speak out

By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative

The Eastern Townships was once connected by a local bus line that helped residents of small communities and towns travel to major cities such as Sherbrooke and Montreal, and Les Oubliés de l’autobus are hoping to bring it back in the near future.

The local line, which was operated by Transdev Canada, a global mobility company, was suspended at the start of the pandemic. The bus service utilized route 112, linking Townshippers in places like Magog, Eastman, Stukely, Waterloo and Bromont.

Les Oubliés de l’autobus, a group of concerned citizens from the Memphrémagog MRC, including St-Étienne-de-Bolton and Orford, believe it’s time to reactivate the bus line. Louise Gagné, the group’s vice president, said the company needs to act now.

“The economic situation is almost regular and we know many people want to move around and some people are going back to work. They need transportation to go to their company and many companies, in fact, are expecting to find employees,” said Gagné.

While the express bus between Montreal and Sherbrooke continued to run throughout the pandemic, albeit at a reduced capacity, it isn’t enough to accommodate people living in rural areas, she explained, adding that it can be difficult for people to access medical services.

According to the group’s website, there are roughly 8,000 adults living in the MRC without a personal vehicle. Although the express service still exists, it can be challenging for residents to reach the terminus on Highway 10, Gagné said. There’s no in between bus service.

“There’s nothing else. They don’t even have a taxi around, so if they phone to get a taxi from Magog to Orford to take them to the express system it will cost them $25, $30 one way and then they have to come back in the night. It’s impossible,” said Gagné.

She added that the number of people without a personal vehicle could have gone up, since their last survey was done three years ago. There are a lot of people — students, elderly folk, families — stuck in a precarious transportation situation, as they struggle to move easily.

An extensive local bus route would also give residents the choice to leave their cars at home, which would help with the environment, Gagné noted. And the local system, at least prior to the pandemic, was more flexible than the express route, according to the vice president.

“This system was the same for the local people […] you can be on the bus and ask the bus driver to drive you somewhere. I did that many times. I live in Orford. They will not come inside the town, but they can drop me off near exit 115 and then I can walk,” she said.

Gagné told The Record that there is a need for collective transportation in the Townships as many people have been feeling even more isolated over the last two years. In the past, her group has proposed using a taxi bus system in order to connect more communities.

Many municipalities have found ways to provide local transportation within their community, however, Gagné wants to create something more unified. In Waterloo, residents can use a shared school bus system, she explained, but there needs to be an option for everyone.

“It’s like a telephone. Can you imagine a telephone system working only for the Memphremagog area? No. It is a communication system for everywhere in the world, so it’s the same thing for transportation. We have to see it as an intelligence system,” said Gagné.

The Record was unable to reach a Transdev representative for an interview. Meanwhile, Waterloo Mayor Jean-Marie Lachapelle told the newspaper that he hasn’t heard any complaints about the town’s lack of transportation options to major cities.

Lachapelle said the local line on route 112 hasn’t been around for a few years now. Waterloo residents have made due with asking for lifts from neighbours or utilizing the local bus network in town. He said that residents are used to finding their own way to the express bus terminus.

The mayor also noted that the Transdev local line wasn’t being used too much when it ran in the area. However, he continued, residents have been using the town’s makeshift collective transportation option and they seem to be enjoying the access it provides them.

“Well it’s going well, people are using it a lot, obviously it’s not a service that goes on at all hours. But presently I can tell you that there is satisfaction because people go to Waterloo, Shefford and even Granby. People use it to go to school, cegep, and other places,” he said.

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