Handi-transit isn’t just for the 55-plus crowd in Selkirk. Nearly 500 people of all ages now ride the local Handi-Bus every month.
The city of 9,800 has been operating a fleet of three buses since the spring of 2010 after city officials realized the city was growing beyond residents’ ability to reach services and amenities by foot.
“It was tough for people to get around,” said Mayor Larry Johannson.
While possessing many of the features of any large urban centre, Selkirk had no conventional public transit. The need became even greater as development arose on the city’s outskirts.
The goal was to create a single transit route throughout the city so anyone could get anywhere within 30 minutes on public transit. The city was able to offer the service through a partnership and cost-sharing agreement forged between the city and the non-profit Selkirk and District Handi-Bus.
Last year, more than 20,000 riders used the service. Average ridership on the little buses, which can carry approximately 35 persons, is 470 people per week. Almost half of the riders use it four or more times a week.
It’s getting more people to their jobs, but it has also created a dozen jobs in the community through a contract for bus stop maintenance with Interlake Employment Services, a non-profit agency supporting those with cognitive disabilities.
Duane Nicol, a city councillor who championed the project, said the impact has been dramatic. The service is well used by precisely those it was created to serve.
“We targeted the youth and the seniors in our community. They had the greatest need,” said Nicol.
A ridership survey in February 2012 showed 31 per cent of riders are under the age of 30 while 29 per cent are over 55. The service is widely used by persons with lower incomes ($20,000 or less). The city views public transit as an investment in social equity as well as a boost to economic development.
City leaders achieved this service because they were committed to it, added Johannson.
“We put our nose to the grindstone for it,” he said. Selkirk wants this service to eventually be part of a larger transit hub linking to Winnipeg in order to reduce daily commuter traffic. There are too many cars travelling to Winnipeg daily carrying just one person, he said. “We are trying to be as green a community as we can.”
Selkirk was awarded a Municipal Award of Excellence at an Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) gathering April 10.
The award is presented annually to a municipality for a project demonstrating sustainability, cost effectiveness and best practices for service provision for their citizens.
Another project considered for the award was Rossburn’s new fitness centre that opened last year. The fully equipped centre is now housed in a fully renovated building that has stood vacant for several years in the town’s centre.
The Rossburn Fitness Centre project was undertaken by local volunteers working with the town and rural municipality to secure grants and fundraise among donors.
The gym is now a popular place for people of all ages and is attracting residents from surrounding communities. Rossburn is now hoping to add additional services on site, including acupuncture and occupational, physiological and massage therapy, eliminating the need for residents to travel outside the community to access these health-related services.