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Dateline: September 2006

SUBJECT: The Eastern Shore Bus Service

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Fair and Equal Representation

Meeting Presentation by Anthony Weller

Maritime Center, 1505 Barrington Street, Halifax
14th Floor North. Boardroom A
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

In Attendance: Fred Davis, ACOA; Gerald Gabriel, HRDA; Marcus Garnet, HRM Planning; Marvin MacDonald, Service NS; Bill Oland, NS Economic Development; Karen Ramsland, Service NS; Brian Taylor, HRM Transit; Dave White UARB; Dave White Transit, Anthony Weller, Sheet Harbour resident, Presenter

I want to thank you all for agreeing to this meeting. It will be obvious I am not accustomed to giving speeches and it is not much fun writing them either. And no doubt you are all very busy so this will be brief. About 15 minutes. To begin, no doubt each of us has an entirely separate cache of information with regard to the Eastern Shore Bus Dilemma; also a wide range of knowledge and experience with regard to the Eastern Shore in general. So, first a little background.

Eastern Shore Bus has come a long way since 1939
Eastern Shore Bus Circa 1939

I think the time and place to start is June 2005 at the Lion's Club in Sheet Harbour at a Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board Hearing. The company that had been running the Eastern Shore Bus service had applied to drop the run. If you look over his company's history, he had his reasons. I spoke to him after the hearing. As with all crumbling relationships, he had a long list of grievances and from his standpoint it was just time to go.

From the point of view of those at the hearing representing passengers, who could stop him if he wanted to go? Besides, he had done nothing in the many years he had operated the run, to improve the run. It was always just an old school bus with a suspension destroyed by the horrible condition of the number 7 highway. The crashing and rattling were deafening.

I wonder if anyone here ever rode that bus. Its only saving grace was the driver Mike, an unsung hero in my book. My home, two hours from Dartmouth was not even halfway to where he drove every night of the week, and back into the city next morning for 17 plus years! Astonishing. He was alert, knowledgeable and dependable. What more could you ask?

But the point is, like me, every one attending the Review board hearing, whether they were there to represent themselves or to represent others, they were there for only one reason to impress upon the panelists how essential a bus service was to the Eastern Shore. Youth too young to drive explained there was no other reliable and safe means to navigate the shore. Many times over the years I remember Mike and I up front and a couple of kids, cuddling, giggling, bouncing around in back, one of them going to or coming from the other's community.

Eastern Shore History. Also at the hearing several businesses pointed to the bus as a reliable cargo carrier. I remember quite a number of cargo stops Mike had, at points across the twin cities and along the shore.

The Review Board Panelists were also informed of a potential revenue source I was reminded of just last week. My friend and I were driving out from Dartmouth. There were three people, a family, fishing from the government wharf in Murphy's cove. While we talked the teenage son cast for macmackerel from his wheelchair. They had driven the fifty miles from Dartmouth purely because this was a wheelchair accessible fishing site. His mother naturally asked if an Eastern Shore Bus would be wheelchair accessible. And I relate this little aside because she just happened to be the most recent in a long line right back to the review board hearing over a year ago advocating for wheel chair accessibility.
Also at that hearing individuals and representatives from a variety of groups described vital city healthcare connections and numerous other country-city connections including the fact the bus was our only link to another bus to the airport and a direct connection to Via Rail. And I would love to bore you with nearing two decades of my own personal experience with that bus. But I would be telling stories into the night.

Those unable to attend that midday hearing, either because they were working or because they were unable to secure transportation, signed a petition to serve in their absence. Two-thousand one-hundred and fifty-seven signatures. All advocating for our lifeline, our critical link to endless numbers of things.

Since that hearing a year ago the bus company has been released from its role, to be replaced with first one, then another, Eastern Shore Bus Service, neither of which, to my knowledge, was ever claimed to represent final solution. In fact, my impression was that these were merely temporary, interim substitutions until something more permanent could be worked out. Also since that Review Board Hearing the Ecology Action Group and the Eastern HRM partnership council have added their support to an Eastern Shore Bus Service. Councilor Steve Streach, on behalf of his constituents, of course, has lobbied at the hearing and has been active since the hearing in keeping the issue alive. Also since the hearing there is an extensive list of advocates to add to the 2005, 2000 plus petition.
All this considered, I am going to assume, at least for the duration of this presentation, we are in agreement there will be an Eastern Shore Bus Service in one form or another, paid for by one means or another.

Just what is it that defines the Eastern Shore? My own experience is that even within this province little is known of this two-hundred mile, thinly populated, jagged line of latitude running from Dartmouth to Canso. I have heard South Shore residents say, ôEastern Shore? There's nothing out there!ö It is a provincial curiosity that the South Shore, the French, Fundy and Northumberland Shores all have relatively well established personalities compared to the Eastern Shore. If you think about it the South Shore is filled with images all the way to Yarmouth. The French Shore, especially with the resurgence of Cajun culture is a burst of Acadia. The Fundy Shore is all about dramatic tide changes and the Northumberland Shore has the Trans Canada Highway and an attractive partner across the strait. Eastern Shore images rarely come to mind.

There are reasons for this. Fifteen years ago the fishing moratorium rendered the Eastern Shore's character instantly invisible. This seems to be happening more and more these days. Communities bottom out after the activities which largely defined them are for one reason or another, discontinued. Stora is another powerful example of influence on community identity. Residents remain loyal to the Eastern Shore, of course, because it is home. Also, of course, no community is ever defined by just one or two things.

"There is nothing at all mind-blowing on the Eastern Shore and therein lies its beautiful secret".

The fact is, the primary features in the character of the Eastern Shore remain hidden in sheer remoteness. Along this long thin line not only does traditional rural independence isolate residents from each other their loyalties are traditionally divided between Halifax-Dartmouth, Truro, New Glasgow, Antigonish and the Strait Area. You are not likely to see a collective Eastern Shore uprising on this issue, in other words. But the point of this is to suggest that the character of the Eastern Shore is spread through every unique individual and every diverse community along the shore. There is nothing at all mind-blowing on the Eastern Shore like the bikinis of Queensland, the Bluenose in Lunenburg, a ferry to another country, Cajun music, forty foot tides or PEI at sunset. There is nothing at all mind-blowing on the Eastern Shore and therein lies its beautiful secret.

If you ask individual residents from Dartmouth to Canso what defines the Eastern Shore, using at least one very precise and personal example, virtually everyone will call attention to the outdoors. Nature. Hiking back to the lakes, fishing, walking the beaches, hiking the trails, picking the berries, hunting for mushrooms, coasting the shoreline, photographing wildlife, tent-site camping and cooking over open fires and miniature stoves. Number 7 traffic for as long as I can remember has always included canoes, kayaks and mountain bikes. The Eastern Shore is an outdoor persons paradise and this message has never really been sent.

In other words, given the potential in transporting cargo along this shore, and given that local ridership would almost certainly improve with assured service and an appropriate vehicle, the real profitability and utility in running this bus can actually derive in delivering city dwellers to the Eastern Shore. This is a natural.

"...in these days of ecological and economic awareness, a bus is the perfect alternative... to offer city dwellers a getaway".

Across Canada city people love escaping their cities, especially if it is to a beach or to a lake and among the Eastern Shore's main claims to fame are its beaches and its lakes. You really do have to see them to believe them. And in these days of ecological and economic awareness a bus is the perfect alternative. It would offer city dwellers a getaway. It would have fold-down bicycle racks and it would deliver hikers, bikers, campers and fitness seekers to campsites, motels, bed-and-breakfasts along the shore from which they would do their thing for a day or two or three before returning via bus to the city. New fare structure and schedule, perhaps weekend packages, to be established. Pictured across the sides of the bus within a beautiful stretch of Eastern Shore coastline would read something like EShore Getaway, or EShore Escape.

Maybe in one year, definitely in two, this bus would have to show a profit. It would have to show a profit because unlike all previous scenarios this bus collects both ways. Local people in and out. City people out and in. Local real estate demand and retail sales would be stimulated. There would necessarily be increased demand for Eastern Shore services and attractions. This bus could actually provide stimulus for moratorium recovery and a long list of disappointments since.

The bus would carry 12-18 passengers, have storage locations for cargo and passenger gear. It would be wheelchair accessible and it would have fold-down bike racks. Quoting a site on the web, ôA third of all transit buses in North America have bike racks, with front-loading racks being the most popular method. The racks vary in carrying capacity from 2-3 bikes on front racks to 5 in rear racks. Although bus operators are trained in the operation of the racks, passengers are usually responsible for loading, securing and removing their bikes from the racks. Having a bike available at both ends of a cyclist's journey provides greater flexibility and convenience. The 1999 Toronto Cycling Survey indicated that 48% of recreational cyclists cited distance as the major reason they don't use their bikes to travel to work or school. In the same survey, 950,000 cyclists reported bike racks on buses would increase the number of trips they made.ö

Unquote. This means, besides the whole new untapped market of city people, local use can also be increased, perhaps in conjunction with the metro bus now running to Porter's Lake. Tourists are only reachable for a few short months. City-dwellers are reachable through spring and fall on both sides of the tourist season, which we all know are some of Nova Scotia's finest times of the year. Special trips to places like Sherbrooke Pioneer Village and Stan Rogers folk festival could also supplement revenues. Already mentioned, there is cargo to pick up and deliver, also the occasional wheelchair fisherman. This bus can make money.

But to expect success merely by enabling an appropriate vehicle is nonsense. On the other side of the equation, equally essential, is a budget for promotion. Everything related to Eastern Shore bus information, trail and accommodation options would appear on the Provincial website, of course. It would also be splashed across the sides of the bus. It would also be on brochures and maps distributed to outfitters, equipment suppliers, schools, bikers, hikers and campers associations; where the beaches are, where the trails are, where you can rent a canoe, where you can ride your bike, where you can set up your tent and how much it is all going to cost. Everyone understands the power and utility in professionally produced promotional maps and brochures. Both HRM and the Province have great experience in this area. There should be no problem in establishing an accurate, adequate advertising budget.

No one would ever deny that modern dilemmas are complex. But we create our own complexities. Just for example. . . all these names, fewer than half responded to the letter. And I'm not really sure how all of you relate to these names. There is all this information from the Review Board Hearing, which I feel has been displaced in this discussion, and I'll bet, as I suggested in the beginning today, no doubt you all have your own stacks of information, not necessarily even related to this stack. This is exactly what killed the fishery. A diverse field of diverse vested interests unable or unwilling to relax their mandates enough even to admit a problem, and most troubling of all, seeming unable even to communicate.

This may be tremendously naive, but I cannot help but feel this is one of those perfect opportunities to do something right. To show how the system can work. Democracy in action. All levels of government and private enterprise working together to achieve something of lasting and stimulating value. Something to look back on with pride. Your tax dollars were not thrown at a problem. Three levels of government and one of private enterprise accurately predicted the two-year costs in purchasing, operating and promoting a viable project; they transparently merged their resources and their mandates into a sensible, socially progressive and profitable, everybody-wins business enterprise. Everybody enters the project with the shared assumption the project will be successful because everybody benefits!

To the point last week when this issue began to demand my complete attention my firm opinion was that HRM's expansion to Ecum Secum was an intrusion and had only served to further obscure Eastern Shore's elusive identity. In my case this was literal reality. HRM's arrival in my own community was heralded by uninvited streetlights suddenly installed in a line up the road with one planted right at the end of my driveway. Now, the city phenomenon known as light pollution has obscured my once completely dark and spectacular night sky. Knowing what a loss this represented to me, my son - past president of the Acadia Christian Fellowship, happily married, doesn't drink, smoke or swear, so you can imagine, offered to extinguish at least the nearest offender at the end of the driveway. He is a very experienced rock-skipper.

Of course, such an action would have started an avalanche of unhinged time and attention so I could only express my gratitude for his understanding. But like lemons to lemonade it struck me last week there might just be an Eastern Shore advantage in HRM expansion. It would be the dedicated introduction to the city dwellers of HRM, to be included within widespread city promotional brochures and maps and certainly across the sides of our new bus, Here's where else you can go in HRM!

Anthony Weller
RR 1 Spry Harbour
Tangier NS B0J 3H0

Ph:/Fax: 902-772-2423
anthonyweller at ns.sympatico.ca

Think globally, Act Locally!

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Highway7 E-zine, a publication of Hatch Media, is an electronic journal with a focus on commercial, historical, cultural and ecological issues concerning the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia in Canada. Topics include a growing resource of currently more than 300 articles. More articles and image galleries are added frequently as new material is brought to our attention. With Highway7.com, our primary aim is to serve, inform and reflect the rural communities on the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia, as well as to acquaint new residents, visitors, tourists, and investors with the special beauty and enormous potential of our region.
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