No Planes or Trains, but Automobiles: Transit in Lunenburg County



(Illustration: Jessie McLaughlin)

Some of you may have been spoiled in your past lives with transit options as far as the eye can see and nary the need for a car.

I own a car, but I am hard-pressed to drive in a town like Lunenburg, where parking is scarce and cars litter the roads in the summer months, with drivers dusting off their parallel parking skills along Lincoln and Montague Streets as blood pressures rise all around. 

I also live outside of town, so in the absence of a car, my options dwindle to an hour-long walk or a cycle into town – both solid choices I should opt for more regularly. But not everyone has these options. What about someone living in Blue Rocks who needs to get to the hospital for a doctor’s appointment?

The other elephant in the room is the issue of drinking and driving. Lunenburg, as I heard it affectionately called today, “is a drinking town with a fishing problem.” So where does that leave us if we want to imbibe in a pint or two at The Knot and make it home safely?

Well, we have three companies: Mercer’s Cab, P.C. Cab, and Oceanview Taxi & Van Service. A significant amount of their time is spent shuttling people on the nearly three-hour return journey to Halifax airport, though they can be available for local rides in a pinch. 

Bobby Mercer founded Mercer’s Cab nearly 13 years ago and remains the company’s main driver, though he hopes to eventually sell the company to a serious buyer.

“We have two cabs, but it’s hard to find drivers or anyone that wants to do this with the rising price of insurance and gas,” Mercer says. “But the demand is there, and it could be a great business for someone who likes driving and meeting people.”

Next, there is the Maritime Bus, though this is another inter-town shuttle that operates at specific times of the day, so it is great if you need to get to Bridgewater Mall at 8:30 am on a Monday or can time it with a trip to Halifax.

Lunenburg County Wheels – formerly Senior Wheels – offers accessible transit to anyone in and around Bridgewater and as far as New Germany but has yet to make its way to the towns of Lunenburg and Mahone Bay. It is a dial-a-ride service that usually requires 24 hours’ notice. 

Bridgewater Transit offers frequent, scheduled bus service along the main arteries of Bridgewater. The VON offers transit for seniors and adults living with disabilities.

For active transportation, Motorized scooters and wheelchairs, skateboards, and bicycles provide more options in warmer months but can be hazardous when sidewalks are limited and streets are congested. 

Other tourist towns worldwide have employed such people-movers as cable cars or a funicular – a hillside elevator of sorts that is as fun as it sounds – though this may not work in a UNESCO-preserved town like Lunenburg unless it’s beyond the boundaries of the heritage site.

As I stroll around my neighbourhood and see yellow school buses parked on properties that bring back childhood memories of boys sticking their chewing gum in my hair on the way to school, I can’t help but wonder: could there be another transit option for this region?

I took an Uber home from the airport once due to poor planning. The driver asked me to pay “under the table” because his app would essentially self-destruct outside the HRM. Not really, but you get my drift.

Spontaneous combustions aside, would a ride-share service work in Lunenburg County? It doesn’t need to be a corporate bigwig like Uber. What if we started one as a community? Local App developers, listen up! Or – hold your phones – a more regular bus service?

In 2019, the Town of Lunenburg published a Transportation Discussion Paper listing two feasibility studies completed in 2009 and 2014 that “clearly demonstrated a community need for a publicly funded transit service.” It states: “A key challenge for transit through the region is the size and extent of the service area, where many residents travel long distances to their destinations.”

The Citizens for Public Transit Society (CPT) is a group of volunteer Lunenburg County citizens advocating for a scheduled, fixed-route public bus system within Lunenburg County, who have played a major role in commissioning studies and advocating for better transit over the past 15+ years.

Back when the NDP held the majority in Nova Scotia, the group solicited the province for a grant to implement a three-year pilot of a scheduled bus service between the major towns in Lunenburg County. They needed four signatures to move forward with the project. Three out of four of the municipalities signed on. The Municipality of the District of Lunenburg did not. Undeterred, the group has continued to advocate over the past decade at the municipal and provincial level and garner favourable support from taxpayers and elected officials.

Stewart Franck, Chair of the CPT says: “We had success in Bridgewater, and we are building towards a better system throughout the county. We support any initiatives like Lunenburg County Wheels and apps that improve transit, but believe a scheduled, publicly funded transit system is needed for consistent, affordable, and more environmentally friendly transit  that will help our region  grow.”

The CPT is holding a forum and workshop on September 15, 2023, by invite-only to key stakeholders in what Franck hopes is the “ last hurrah” to get everyone on board.

Transportation remains an ongoing discussion and challenge throughout rural Nova Scotia, particularly in towns that can double and triple in the summer. For now, it’s business as usual until we can find a solution that works. Carpool, anyone?


Comments

One response to “No Planes or Trains, but Automobiles: Transit in Lunenburg County”

  1. Laurel Haslett

    Thanks for this excellent article. Without public transportation our area cannot grow and thrive . This, along with lack of rental housing are huge problems we face. Why not make it easier for people to live outside our towns and commute by bus to jobs or school?

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