By Lynn Pye-Matheson, Executive Director
Grasslands Regional FCSS
Why focus on regional rural transportation?
Building a regional transportation network in the Newell Region is ongoing, complex and multi-faceted. It has involved several years of work, different ways of identifying transportation needs, how needs are met and what more can and needs to be done.
Newell Region includes five municipalities: City of Brooks; County of Newell; Town of Bassano; Village of Rosemary; and the Village of Duchess. Over the years, informal feedback from residents identified concerns about people who had to travel both inside and outside the region for services.
As of 2013, we really had no clear idea of how people were getting around nor what the regional transportation needs were. That year, Grasslands Regional Family & Community Support Services (FCSS) conducted a Quality of Life Survey designed to identify the factors residents considered most important. Levels of satisfaction with existing services across public, social and economic sectors were also addressed.
Transportation was identified as very important, but
satisfaction with transportation services
in and out of the region was low.
Phase I: Subsequent to these findings, FCSS completed the transportation network Study: Exploration of Existing Transportation Networks in Brooks and The County of Newell (2013). It focussed on gathering more specific information about the transportation needs in the Newell Region.
Results pointed to concerns with the lack of access to
existing services as well as gaps in services within
the City of Brooks and the need to increase ridership
in the County Minibus service.
For the smaller municipalities where residents depended on volunteers for transportation, insurance and liability were identified as major concerns. Transportation to larger centers was a major issue across the board.
Phase II started in November 2013. Residents and key decision-makers gathered at a Newell Transportation Community Forum to brainstorm ideas for working together to improve transportation services in the Newell Region.
In January, 2014, a Newell Region Transportation Networks Committee was formed with municipal representatives and FCSS at the table. Their mandate was:
(i) to compile information and provide recommendations and advice to the Councils relative to policies, procedures and programs for transportation initiatives, action, awareness and education; and
(ii) to provide a conduit for the promotion of transportation sustainability and support of initiatives which improve the Newell Region's transportation initiatives.
Phase III began in March 2014, when the City of Brooks, on behalf of all Newell Region municipalities, received a Regional Collaboration Grant to explore the logistics for creating a sustainable regional transportation network which considered our needs (not wants) and developed fiscally sound, creative alternatives to moving people around.
The Newell Region Transportation Business Plan
(December 2014) helped inform the possibilities for transportation
in the future. The work is ongoing and progress has been made to improve transportation
services for our residents.
In August 2015, The City of Brooks resumed control of the handibus service which has since seen a marked increase in ridership and satisfaction for seniors and persons with disabilities.
Transportation continues to be important;
levels of satisfaction with transportation services have increased.
In 2018, Brooks and the County of Newell initiated a Transportation Pilot Project which extends hours of service operations to improve access to events and key destinations throughout the region; for example, hockey games, rodeos, Honouring a Community Dinners, Canada Day Celebrations, trips to Dinosaur Park and Lake Newell, Annual Community Suppers and more (see the poster below and refer to Molly Douglass, Acknowledging the Power of Regional Collaboration, Rural Transportation News. No. 10).
I think we have discovered the true complexity of creating a regional model to meet the transportation needs of residents. By listening to what rural people have told us, we now have three shuttle services for out-of-region travel, one based in Brooks and two based out of Medicine Hat.
We have learned that one size does not fit all!
The work is ongoing and progress has been made to
improve transportation services for our residents.
By working together, we have learned our task is not only complex and multi-faceted, but possible. Here are some of the lessons we have learned that may be helpful to stakeholders and decision makers in other regions of Alberta.
Useful lessons for stakeholders
|Volunteers at work in |
- Transportation must provide for resident
travel in and out of the region,
- There are differences in criteria for ridership,
- Municipalities need to balance multiple
- Existing resources need to be identified,
- Identify funding and find new sources,
- Communities have commonalities and
differences in their transportation needs.
It is encouraging that rural transportation is now being
recognized as a priority by the Government of Alberta.
Solutions require an ongoing commitment from all levels of government and collaboration is needed in the provision of resources to meet the transportationneeds in Rural Alberta.
Credit must be given to regional collaborations of municipal governments and community groups who are working hard to understand transportation needs and create ways whereby rural residents can stay in the communities they love!
Note: For the transportation documents cited in this article
Lynn Pye-Matheson is the Executive Director for Grasslands Regional Family & Community Support Services (FCSS) Society with a part-time teaching appointment at Medicine Hat College, Brooks Campus. She believes in a cross-sector approach to building sustainable, collaborative, inclusive communities. Lynn appreciates the values of living in a rural area that is rich in tradition and the cultures represented by more than 100 languages. With her roots deep in Real Rural Alberta, Lynn is inspired by the creativity, generosity and resilience of the people and rugged beauty of Alberta landscapes - even after seven months of winter!
Rural Transportation News. Alberta 2018 is produced by ALL of Alberta (Association for Life-wide Living of Alberta). Contributors and people in RuralTransportation Team Alberta are committed to changes that contribute to the quality of life for everyone in rural Alberta. We value your feedback and ideas.
or by calling 780/672-9315.
Appreciation is extended to contributors, organizations and other stakeholders for their help in moving the Alberta Rural Transportation efforts along, and to the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association for helping to circulate this column.
Cathie Bartlett is Editor for Rural Transporation News. Alberta 2018. She is a former journalist, and now an active member of the
Battle River Writing Centre.