The road ahead looks rough for Prescott-Russell (PR) Transpo and it’s up to the eight United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) mayors to decide the future of the local public transit service.

At UCPR council meeting on Thursday, January 26, a statistical report on PR-Transpo ridership, revenue, and expenses was presented. According to the report, it has cost $1,158,608.38 to develop and maintain the service since 2018. PR-Transpo was developed with the idea of providing accessible, affordable transportation to residents who do not have their own vehicles, have restricted mobility, or want an environmentally friendly transportation alternative.

From April 30, 2018, to May 30, 2021, PR-Transpo offered a fixed-route service, with scheduled stops in all municipalities across the UCPR. However, low ridership led the UCPR to switch PR-Transpo to an on-demand service, beginning in June 2021.

Just 234 users since switch on-demand service

Since the switch to on-demand service, PR-Transpo has had 6,167 total boardings on its two, 20-passenger minibuses, operated under contract by Leduc Bus Lines. However, the boardings only represented a total of 234 users. The greatest number of boardings was in the Town of Hawkesbury, with 2,234, or 36 per cent, of the boardings – representing 28 per cent of the users.

Service was again temporarily interrupted on December 23, 2022, with a proposed return on February 12, 2023. However, on Monday, January 31, the UCPR announced PR-Transpo service is now suspended until June 5. Chief Administrative Officer Stéphane Parisien told The Review the service normally takes a hiatus over the holiday season, but the UCPR staff member who oversaw the transit program left the position late in 2022. Parisien explained the interruption is now indefinite, depending on what council decides about the future of the program.

PR-Transpo was developed as a pilot project, intended to last until 2025. It is receiving $2,975,534.90 in funding from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s Community Transportation Grant Program. The UCPR has committed to providing $140,000 of its own funds to the service over the seven-year period.

From June 2021 to December 2022, fare revenue for PR-Transpo was $33,892.71. Operating expenses were $685,626.75, and the cost of the service was $651,734.04.

“The bottom line is, it doesn’t look good,” Parisien told UCPR council on January 26.

“It’s not sustainable, nor is it viable in the present form,” he remarked.

Mayors react

There was skepticism among the mayors about the viability of PR-Transpo.

Hawkesbury Mayor Robert Lefebvre asked if the UCPR’s financial contribution to PR-Transpo is a general budget contribution, or if it has any conditions attached to it.

Chief of Staff Olivier Berthiaume, who prepared the report, said it is a special contribution made as a condition of receiving the grant from the Ontario government.

Russell Township Mayor Pierre Leroux referred to a recent meeting he attended with Premier Doug Ford and implied PR-Transpo is costing too much, no matter where the money is coming from.

“He (Ford) always says that it doesn’t matter where the money’s coming from, there’s only one taxpayer. You know, that’s a hard pill to swallow,” Leroux said.

“I tend to agree,” added Warden Normand Riopel.

The Nation Mayor Francis Brière also agreed with Leroux and Riopel.

“What’s the steps we need to take if we choose to rid ourselves of this program?” Brière asked.

Parisien said discussions of options for PR-Transpo were to take place during the closed session of the January 26 council meeting. On January 27, Parisien said no further details about the future of PR-Transpo were publicly available.