Making the Case for Community Transportation – In-person Forum & Webinar

Date: March 31, 2017

Over 50 people gathered together just north of Barrie, Ontario on Thursday March 9th, 2017 to learn what has been done in the USA to “make the case” for Community Transportation (CT) and how it can inform action & investment here in Canada. The event was so well received that a webinar on the topic was also held on March 24th as a means of sharing the information presented with others across the province.

The speakers & topics at the Forum were:

• Ranjit Godavarthy, North Dakota State University - Cost Benefit Analysis of Rural and Small Urban Transit in the USA

• Chris Zeilinger, Community Transportation Association of America - Making the Case for CT: Lessons from South of the Border

• Rachelle Hamelin & Irena Pozgaj-Jones, County of Simcoe - Simcoe County Community Transportation Initiatives

• Kevin Dowling, Ontario Ministry of Transportation - Provincial Gas Tax Program

To kick things off, Ranjit Godavarthy, an Assistant Professor of Transportation and an Associate Research Fellow with the Small Urban and Rural Transit Center at North Dakota State University, presented a methodology for assessing transit benefits for rural and small urban areas. He also provided an overview of recent research and an analysis of the costs & benefits of providing transit in these areas. As Ranjit explained, the research results show that the benefits provided by transit in rural and small urban areas in US are greater than costs of providing services (benefit-cost ratios being greater than 1). He clarified that the benefit-cost ratios were higher in small urban areas than in rural areas, due in large part to reduced densities and greater distances in rural areas. In addition, he explained that fixed route services had a higher benefit-cost ratio than demand response services, for similar reasons. On the whole, most of the benefits of small urban and rural transit services were generated by creating trips for individuals who would not be able to make the trip otherwise (known as “forgone” trips).

Next, Chris Zeilinger from the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) spoke about his work as Assistant Director at CTAA. Chris focuses on using transportation as a catalyst for economic development in rural communities, promoting environmental justice, and advancing the ways in which all modes of transportation are planned and designed in rural areas, towns and smaller cities. He spoke of key elements for making the “business case” for community transportation (such as what resonates with local leaders and decision-makers) and drew on several case studies from within the US that present learnings for Ontario and Canada more broadly. Chris’ examples helped to clearly demonstrate transit’s contribution towards rural livability & vitality.

Our USA guests were followed by Rachelle Hamelin & Irena Pozgaj-Jones, of the County of Simcoe, who spoke about their local Community Transportation initiatives as a way of offering an Ontario-based example, and providing an overview of what was happening in the host community. They talked about how research, including a County-wide Transit Feasibility and Implementation Study, was initiated to identify existing public transportation capacity, partnerships and opportunities, as well as determine suitable approaches to planning for transit and the range of appropriate solutions available for providing transit in small communities. They identified the needs, challenges and benefits of providing transit locally, and spoke about how consultations with the public and relevant stakeholders were conducted to seek feedback on a draft concept and service types, as well as to identify and prioritize objectives for the proposed service options. Finally, they offered a summary of the County’s 5-10 year Transit Plan and demonstrated how it fit with other County of Simcoe initiatives (e.g., Age-Friendly Communities, Trails Strategy, Cycle Simcoe initiative, etc.).

The final presenter for the day was Kevin Dowling from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, who delivered an overview of the Provincial Gas Tax Program. Kevin provided background on the program and the principles behind it, along with the methodology for the allocation of funds. He explained eligibility, how municipalities could inquire about, apply for and administer the funding. Finally, Kevin offered answers to a list of frequently asked questions and helped to clarify the difference between the federal and provincial gas tax programs (such as that the Provincial funding can be spent on public transit expenditures, either “capital and/or operating”, whereas the Federal funding can be spent on a range of “capital” project categories, including public transit).

In addition to the informative presentations, the Forum offered opportunities for people to network and have small group discussions on the topic. Based on feedback from those attending both the in-person Forum and the webinar, participants found it valuable to: know that “there is an existing framework for assessing the economic impact of transit in smaller communities”, and see “examples of smaller communities that have benefited from the introduction or expansion of transit services.” They felt inspired by the knowledge that the various examples provided helped to “employ people, reduce poverty & isolation, and improve access to health care”, and fully appreciated the “tips for engaging policy makers in transportation solutions”.

If you would like to learn more about how all of this information could impact your own community, you can listen to & watch the recording of the “Making the Case for Community Transportation” webinar (March 2017). You won’t be disappointed! To access the Forum slides, presenter bios, and/or the webinar audio-video recording, click here, or visit our “presentations” page under the Resources tab on our website: