BLACKS HARBOUR – If you don’t have a vehicle of your own, you probably have a pretty good idea how difficult it can be to access transportation in and around Charlotte County. There is neither a bus service, nor other form of public transportation, and there aren’t enough taxis for those who can actually afford that type of service regularly. Eastern Charlotte Waterways (ECW) in Blacks Harbour has developed an idea that may put an end to transportation woes for many people in Charlotte County, and they are calling it, “Project Village”.

Briana Cowie, executive director at ECW, said the group applied to Environment and Climate Change Canada, which is a climate action awareness fund, in October 2020. They were successful, and received $425,000 to be used to purchase four electric vehicles for their on-demand rural transportation service.

“It was an identified need for quite some time,” said Cowie. “We have no public transportation service, and we have a lot of low income households and newcomer populations. In terms of long-term population retention, we struggle to be able to provide the necessary services to our community to ensure the ability to get to work, to go get groceries, visit family. The cost of a vehicle is quite expensive.”

Cowie believes having this service will help when it comes to the retention of newcomers to the community because it will ensure they have reliable transportation to and from work. She said it is difficult enough to find employment, and not having access to transportation adds to the challenge. Cowie and her team at ECW have been working in partnership with Charlotte Dial-a-Ride, the Multicultural Association of Charlotte County, Vibrant Communities Charlotte County, and others to get this pilot project off the ground.

“A sense of community and social cohesion is only made stronger by a source of transportation,” said Cowie. “Also, from a data perspective, this will assist us in understanding transportation patterns for planning in the region. So, this is one solution of a greater transportation network that needs to happen in our region to fit peoples’ needs.”

The four electric vehicles were purchased from Saint John Hyundai, and will arrive at ECW lot next week. The cars will be outfitted with a platform called Sauver, developed by a Quebec company. The software will allow users to register to make use of the vehicles. They will be asked to provide their drivers’ licenses and identification, and they will be required to go through a criminal background check. The software will also be used for scheduling and fares.

“We’re working internally to finalize the overall business plan for how these will be used, from an operational standpoint,” said Cowie. “We’ll do a pilot test for a few weeks with local community members from Dial-a-Ride as well as our staff to see what additional refinements need to be done in the software. We’re hoping to be able to roll it out in the fall. The fee structure is still being worked out. We’re working with collaborative work models, so what we want to do is come up with the numbers internally, and then we’re going to float them through other community groups, like Dial-a-Ride, our industry partners, the multicultural association, to ensure that what we’re proposing is feasible for every demographic.”

Cowie said this pilot project is a “car-share model”, which is different from a rental model. Once people who wish to use the vehicles are registered, they can “purchase the use of the vehicles”. She said users can schedule times to be able to run errands, go to appointments, etc. ECW has also reached out to Charlotte Dial-a-Ride.

“They’re very excited about this as a potential use for their services to be complimentary,” said Cowie. “Individuals who don’t necessarily have licenses or be able to drive themselves; we’re hoping to supplement that with additional volunteer drivers like Dial-a-Ride. We’re kind of formalizing that partnership with them.”

Cowie said this service will run indefinitely, as long as it is successful and continues to remain viable. ECW will own the vehicles and the software, and they will take care of the day-to-day operations of the service. They will begin with the rural model here in Charlotte County, and hope to be able to upscale it and expand to other areas.

Advertising for Project Village will begin within the next month or so, and Cowie said people should “keep an eye out for those details”. If anyone has questions about this project, please contact Cowie at 456-6001.

“We’re really looking forward to providing the region with a sustainable and carbon-reducing model for transportation, and also something that’s worked out with community partners. We hope that this is just step one for a bigger network for more public transportation. We desperately need that here.”

Sari Green