Rural Community Transportation Solutions: Lessons Learned from New Brunswick

Submitted by Tamarack on April 27, 2017 - 6:19am

On January 27, 2016 we were joined by Cities Reducing Poverty members, Alex Henderson of Vibrant Communities Charlotte County, Joanna Brown of the Westmorland-Albert Community Inclusion Network Coop, and Janice Dunbar of Huron County's Health Unit, to discuss how the local poverty reduction initiatives have framed their transportation needs in relation to the provincial strategy, their regional and cross-regional programs, and key ideas for success.

After you watch the webinar, you will also find a follow-up dialogue by Alex and Joanna with questions from our webinar participants, and a handy list of resources for rural organizers.

Do you have something helpful to add? Please add the links to the comments below, or contact  


Post-Interview Discussion

About Common Challenges

Q. How do you address common barriers, such as the cost of operating a rural transportation system, route scheduling frequency so that users find it beneficial, and subsidizing fare costs for users who are living with low income.? Have your initiatives been viewed / examined through a health equity assessment lens?  

 Alex: Health equity assessment would be an excellent tool to evaluate the impact of transit proposals. Perhaps to our detriment, we did not use this methodology. Not knowing how to to do one of these studies myself, I wonder if an assessment of this nature would do enough to emphasize the economic component of health services delivery? The equity component of decision-making should be fundamentally important to leaders in a democratic society,  but politicians in New Brunswick are currently fixated on cutting costs wherever possible. 

To answer the first question [about operating and scheduling for users], we did participant surveys and key informant interviews to determine a bus schedule that would meet the needs of various kinds of people with transportation difficulties.

Q. How do we best coordinate transportation with limited resources?  There are so many programs offering services, but each one has their own restrictions. It's a full time job trying to figure out what’s out there and who qualifies. The average person has no clue what's available.

Joanna: In our region there are limited transportation options and the door-to-door programs are offering their pay-per-use services to everyone. Currently the groups are also exploring tiered pricing that is not fully based on income.

Q. Have there been issues surrounding insurance (public vs. private insurance rates) or agency mandates, who are only able to provide rides to their specific groups, related to sharing resources?

Joanna: We have had issues around insurance rates but that has been resolved with a national decision taken by the insurance board: any program giving drives and drivers are only reimbursed mileage, are not considered a business, and can get $2 million liability. We also have not encountered problems with accessing service because anyone can become a member. 

Q. How would such a program address concerns from rate-payers' groups? (Canadian Tax Federation, Fraser Institute population segment) 

Alex: Certain segments of the population will automatically feel the need to discredit any new proposal presented to the government that involves subsidizing a service of some kind. You can point out to these people that they are usually perfectly comfortable supporting massive subsidies to car drivers for the provision of multi-lane highway infrastructure. If we didn't have so many cars on the road we wouldn't need so much costly pavement; tax-payers shoulder that burden. Public transit, like buses, are simply another form of subsidized transportation infrastructure that serves a segment of the population that doesn't drive. 

On the cost side of things, sometimes transit proposals like the one in rural southwest New brunswick, can reduce costs in other areas of government spending. Mass transit certainly has cost efficiency over individual travel in taxis, which are paid for by New Brunswick tax-payers, for the medical travel of social assistance clients. As well, having accessible transportation allows seniors to live in their homes longer and stay out of costly subsidized nursing facilities.  


About Municipal Engagement and Continuity:

What steps have been taken to ensure the continuity of the action plan if there is a change in mayorship?

Joanna: We work across multiple communities and situations so the impact of the mayors has not been a significant issue to date. Further, we tend to work with staff at the [broader] municipal level.


About Accessibility:

Are there restrictions on qualifications for your programs? How do people connect and access services?

Joanna: There aren't restrictions or qualifications to access the service, but there are restrictions on subsidized free drives (very limited). Goups are working on a standardized guide and will be happy to share when it is complete. They're currently also exploring a tiered pricing system that isn't fully based on income.Clients mainly access the service via phone book, but there is some online information. 

About Community engagement:

How do you engage volunteers to help out with your transportation initiative?

  • Cold calling people in community that [our] groups have heard are interested in engaging. 
  • Via family members of clients who can drive some of the time
  • Word-of-mouth
  • Retirees planning on using the service when they need it later in life
  • Churches

About Collaboration

Have non-rural communities helped you reach your goal with these projects?    

Alex: Saint John, New Brunswick's social renewal strategy (Living SJ) had $20,000 in unspent funding for transportation so they contacted Vibrant Communities Charlotte County to see how they could help support our transit proposal. Though the proponents of this bus service were thinking primarily in terms of rural to urban transportation service, those in the urban area saw they benefit of having an urban to rural connection. Certain benefits for Saint John residents included shorter wait times at our rural hospital for day surgeries and access to the Maine border.                                                    

Have you approached any car-sharing programs in large municipalities to develop rural-based programs? Ex. MODO, Car2Go, etc.

Joanna: This isn't the baseline. Our populations are so low the urban communities are just trying to get these programs going. We have quite a car culture and system that is designed for people-households to have cars so we are working on building up various options over time. 


Find the recommended resources here. The PDF Includes:

  • Gap Analysis and other background transportation research studies by the New Brunswick Community Inclusion Network initiatives
  • A series of Rural Community Transportation Case Studies from Ontario
  • Helpful sites for organizing social solutions in rural areas