For a brief moment Tuesday afternoon, lightning and rain filled the skies and there was no safer place to be than on a bus.
Close to a dozen Simcoe County elected officials arrived at the Oakwood Community Centre in Victoria Harbour to celebrate the launch of what they see as a long-overdue, much-needed public transit connection betweeen Midland and Orillia.
“The intent is to provide accessible means for people to get to education centres, employment centres and health centres (in) Orillia and Barrie," Simcoe County Warden George Cornell said during the official launch.
"We want to make it as affordable as we can," he added.
Starting on Aug. 3, LINX Transit will offer a month of free ridership between Orillia and Midland, from Mondays to Fridays, with stops in Warminster, Coldwater, Waubaushene and Victoria Harbour. While there's no service on weekends or statutory holidays, the cost to ride the bus after Labour Day will range between $2 and $6.
The connection is the sixth and final route within phase one of the county's transit implementation plan.
The route will go from Lakehead University in Orillia to Georgian College in Midland as its two terminus points. Each bus will leave those points at 6 a.m., with hourly runs, concluding with the last bus leaving Orillia at 5:55 p.m., and Midland at 5 p.m.
The stops are as follows: Orillia, Lakehead University; West Ridge Boulevard and Monarch Drive; Warminster, Highway 12 and Warminster Sideroad; Coldwater, 36 Coldwater Rd.; Waubaushene, 415 Sturgeon Bay Rd.; Victoria Harbour, Oakwood Community Centre at Park Street and Industrial Road; Richard Street and Albert Street; Midland, No Frills at 990 Jones Rd., and finally Georgian College.
“As a regional government, we’re trying to establish a benchmark by setting up the LINX system across our county, and so far it has been extremely well-received," Cornell said. "Obviously, during COVID there was a bit of a dip, but prior to COVID our ridership was exceeding 25 per cent to 30 per cent of our estimates.”
Pricing will differentiate between three zones designated as Orillia to Warminster (Zone 3), Coldwater (Zone 2), and Waubaushene to Midland (Zone 1). To travel to and from Zones 1 to 3 will cost $6; to travel to and from Zones 1 to 2 or 2 to 3 will cost $4, and to travel within a single zone will cost $2.
And despite earlier calls, the new service does not stop in Port McNicoll.
David Parks, the county's director of planning, economic development, and transit, was also excited about the new connection.
“You can use transfers from the city of Barrie and from Midland,” he said, “and there’s a discount when you use the transfers through Orillia, Midland and Penetanguishene transit.”
Severn Township Mayor Mike Burkett spoke to the cost-effectiveness of the public transit service across the region in comparison to owning a vehicle.
“There’s a little bit of inconvenience because you can’t just jump in your car to drive,” said Burkett, “but when you compare dollars to cents… it’s cents compared to dollars — to try and have your own car, by the time you pay insurance, you’ve got to be awake and able to drive; this is a very convenient way to get to where you need to go.”
Tay Township Mayor Ted Walker related the struggles for those who would otherwise find travel difficult.
“It’s long overdue, and we’re so happy to have it,” Walker said. “We have a lot of seniors, and a lot of kids in colleges and so on, and this makes that so much easier. It’s just something that we didn’t have before.”
Midland Coun. Carole McGinn, who had championed public transit in the political arena, was ecstatic about the LINX service arriving.
“Given the social determinants of health, population and the amount of people in our community and our neighbouring communities, who need and require (this), it is about time that this service exists," she said.
LINX+ is a transit service for individuals who have a disability preventing them from being able to use the conventional service. It will be available as a door-to-door service once additional buses are delivered. Residents wishing to utilize the LINX+ service are asked to complete a registration form through the LINX website, or by calling 1-800-263-3199.
All information on pricing and schedules is available on Simcoe County's LINX page.