The United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) is trying to make it easier for more local residents to travel between communities.

The UCPR has received a $2-million grant from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation to establish a pilot project to improve public transportation and accessible transportation between local municipalities.

The idea behind the project is for the UCPR to establish an inter-municipal transportation service and improve existing medical transportation services using with its partner, CAREFOR, an agency that provides accessible transportation for primarily those with medical needs and limited mobility.

The provincial grant lasts until 2023 and is divided into four phases.  In 2019, a seven-seat, specially-adapted minivan will be purchased. According to a press release issued by the counties, $1.5 million of the $2-million grant will be used to develop an intermunicipal transportation service while the other $500,000 will be used to purchase the minivan and the services of a driver for Carefor, to better serve its clients.

A coordinator for the program will also be hired with a term of employment lasting until 2023.

In addition to the grant money, the program will cost the UCPR $20,000 per year to operate.  The $20,000 cost for this year was included in the 2019 budget.

In phase two, a marketing strategy for the program will be developed along with increased efforts to identify clientele for the service.  Potential routes will also be determined.

Routes will be finalized, along with user payment methods in the third phase.

During the fourth and final phase, the service will be officially implemented and contract service providers will be selected.

The Prescott-Russell Economic Development and Tourism Department, in collaboration with the consulting firm Axion, will begin identifying the needs of the population in terms of community transportation by conducting public consultations as well as surveys. This planning work is essential to the implementation of an effective public transit system.

At the February 20 UCPR council meeting, La Nation Mayor François St-Amour questioned if CAREFOR was too inflexible due to its primary role as a provider of medical transport.  He noted that many residents without their own personal transportation want to travel for non-medical reasons like shopping or to family gatherings.  He asked if there is a way of improving the service but acknowledged the plan is a practical and good one.

UCPR Director of Economic Development and Tourism Carole Lavigne acknowledged there are currently limitations but said there is possibility of expansion of transportation services under the new project.

The UCPR and its partner, Carefor, had received confirmation of the financial support in March 2018, but have been waiting for the official agreement since that time.