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Catch the "TROUT" in North Hastings and Highlands EastCatch the "TROUT" in North Hastings and Highlands East

Now that the residents of North Hastings and Highlands East can catch the TROUT, rural life has been made easier. The TROUT, also known as The Rural Overland Utility Transit is one of the first of its kind in Ontario--a rural public transit system.  TROUT Bus

The idea for public transit came about when the Community Care North Hastings, a centre that serves seniors and peoples with disabilities, began to struggle to sustain their 15 year old handi-bus.  The local government, community agencies and Community Care North Hastings (CCNH) were aware of a growing need for local public transit, so they decided to develop the handi-bus service as a public transit service. Several municipal governments in the area and CCNH got together to apply for funds from the Ontario Gas Tax Program, which provides funding for public transit throughout Ontario. 

With the gas tax funds as well as financial contributions from Community Care North Hastings and the Community Futures Development Corporations, a 3 year public transit project was launched in May 2010. Just before the project was to be launched, CCNH organized a contest to name the public transit system. After careful deliberation, The Rural Overland Utility Transit (T.R.O.U.T ) was chosen. Sherry Hayes, the coordinator of the TROUT service said the name was really “a perfect fit.” It was not only reflective of what the community had wanted but also of the area--surrounded by lakes and a trout hatchery.

The TROUT is now in its second year of a three year pilot project. Each day of the week, a 16 or 14 passenger bus travels to a different rural community approximately 20-40 km from Bancroft. Passengers await the bus at designated bus stop along the way. For seniors and those with disabilities, the bus picks them up directly from their homes. The bus then returns to Bancroft where it provides city-based public transit from 10am to 2pm, stopping at seniors` residences and other locations in the city of Bancroft. As Sherry Hayes noted, “this allows the seniors and locals from out of town to do what they need to do in town, such as attend doctors’ appointments, get their hair cut or go grocery shopping, before returning home.” At 2:30 pm, once the bus has made several local runs around Bancroft, it brings passengers back to their town or village and makes its way back to Bancroft.

Although the TROUT has been extremely successful, Sherry states that it has not been without obstacles. The bus, having functioned as a handi-bus for seniors and peoples with disabilities for over 15 years, had previously provided an on-call door to door service. Now with its dual function as a public transport system, Sherry acknowledges that “the regulars [the handi-bus users] have had to adapt to the new service. This means they now have to plan their schedules around the bus` schedule instead of vice versa.”  However, Sherry and the CCNH have been working hard to meet the needs of their users and have recently revamped the schedule so it is better matched to the needs of all those using the service.

T.R.O.U.T. Bus at santa claus paradeAnother obstacle that the TROUT has encountered is one that is common to most public transit systems in Canada-- financial feasibility. In order to receive the Ontario Gas Tax funds, the project requires financial support from the communities it serves.  Unfortunately this has been challenging because not all communities have been supportive of the project.  Sherry believes that this is due to the mindset of living in a car culture. Unfortunately, to balance the costs of the project this has meant an increase in user fees for those living in communities that do not financially contribute to the project. Yet, again, CCNH is trying to best support its users by offering a multi-trip passes, this provides some users as much as 40% savings in fees.

Despite the obstacles encountered, the people behind the TROUT project have been extremely innovative and determined. In July 2010, CCNH was able to purchase a new bus, which was made possible through a two year community fundraising initiative that raised $100 000. In addition, to maintain financial feasibility and at the same time serve the needs of the community, the TROUT offers out of town trips for seniors such as shopping trips to Peterborough or Belleville, activity trips to Algonquin park and art trips to galleries and plays. The bus is also available to rent for community events, private parties and personal transportation outside of the public transit hours and provides advertising space for local businesses.

Sherry states that the TROUT has greatly contributed to the community socially and economically.  “With the same people riding the TROUT on a regular basis, it has become a social space, a place where people can interact with their neighbours, share stories and just chat. This is particularly important for peoples with disabilities and seniors. In addition, it has provided both seniors and people with disabilities with a greater sense of independence. They are able to get around town, do all the things they need to do and return how without relying on other people.”

The TROUT has also contributed to the community economically by creating jobs - for drivers as well as her own, as well as her own job as Coordinator of the TROUT service. It has also been beneficial for local businesses because local people are now better able to get to them. The public transit system has also become a selling point for those interested in moving into the area, especially for retirement residences, as most of them have public transit right at their door.  

Although the process of starting a rural transit system has not been easy and may still require a shift in thinking for some community members, Sherry says that one of the most important elements in creating the transit system has been the branding.  “Involving the community in naming the project, and ensuring that the logo was visible and attractive was an important contribution to the success of the system.”

For more information on the TROUT please visit: http://catchthetrout.ca/

Or contact:

Sherry Hayes
Manager -Transportation Services
Community Care North Hastings
613.332.4700 ext.28
shayes@comcarenh.org

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