Sarnia will share a $1.45-million grant with London and Strathroy-Caradoc to improve transportation between the three communities.
The cities were among 40 in Ontario receiving funds through the Transportation Ministry’s Community Transportation Grant Program.
With the money secured, the next likely step is issuing a Request for Proposals (RFPs) to interested parties, said Demetri Makrakos, economic development officer for Strathroy-Caradoc.
Sarnia joined the application in February after Greyhound Canada contacted Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley to discuss the possibility of reinstating inter-city bus service between Sarnia and London.
In making its overture to the city, Greyhound estimated the route would need to be subsidized about 70%, and it would likely be cancelled after five years if the subsidy weren’t renewed.
Another company expected to submit a proposal is Robert Q Airbus, which has offered inter-city transportation between Sarnia, London and Toronto since 1977.
Executive vice-president Brad Rice questioned the need for another service provider entering the market, saying Robert Q currently runs with a passenger load of about 50%.
Rice said Robert Q was already planning to add Strathroy as a shuttle stop in July. He denied it was a response to the grant application, saying it became an option when a new Tim Hortons that’s opened 10 minutes off Highway 401 agreed to become a drop-off and pickup point.
Asked if a lack of awareness of the service, despite its longevity, could be responsible for the empty seats, Rice said he was confident Sarnians are well aware of the service and that local travel agents support it.
To increase Sarnia bus passengers, Robert Q Airbus introduced a coordinated schedule with Via Rail in 2012 to make it easier for residents to access train service between London and Toronto.
But Mayor Bradley said he isn’t convinced the public is aware of it.
“Robert Q had the opportunity to market and promote their linkup with Via Rail” but failed to do so, Bradley said. “Does anyone know that relationship exists?”
Despite the criticism, Rice said Robert Q Airbus expects to be “at the table” when the three communities decide how to spend the grant money.
Without a subsidy, Robert Q offers a one-way adult ticket to London for $42.40. A round trip is $84.80, with discounts for seniors and students.