The NOTL Transit buses haven’t been in operation since COVID-19 shutdowns started in March and it’s unclear when the service might resume.
The NOTL transit bus offered a sense of affordability and mobility to many residents who no longer drive, thanks to its $3 fare and wheelchair accessibility.
“When they stopped that bus, they have taken our independence away,” says NOTL resident Catherine Starrs, 79.
Starrs has been using the bus for six years and said she feels as though her accessibility and independence have been lost since the service stopped running.
She said she understands that the buses needed to shut down along with many other town operations to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
But it seems as though the bus has been forgotten about in NOTL as we have now entered Stage 3 of reopening, Starrs said, while other towns like Pelham, whose transit model is similar to NOTL’s restarted with a dial-a-ride program in April.
Starrs voluntarily forfeited her licence after being diagnosed with glaucoma in one eye, she said. “For safety’s sake and I gave it up because there was a bus. I was still young enough to learn the routines of the buses.”
“We were independent,” Starrs said, but now, “I can’t go to the doctors in the Falls, I can’t go to the doctors in St. Catharines and I can’t even go down in Niagara-on-the-Lake to do any shopping I need, or go and get my blood work.”
According to the Niagara-on-the-Lake town website, NOTL transit has been suspended since April 9.
The town’s emergency control group made the decision to suspend the service out of concern for health and safety due to COVID-19.
The webpage also states a decline in ridership was a factor.
Residents looking for assistance with grocery delivery and shopping support are encouraged by the town to take advantage of the Community Assistance Program.
While there are options for people with limited mobility, many residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake moved to the town to retire and rely on the bus for their basic needs.
Tasks as simple as grocery shopping or doctor’s appointments have become unmanageable and riders are left with costly alternatives.
Garrison Village resident Rose Marie Maryschak has lived in town for 12 years and she said she has been taking the bus since it started running in 2012. Maryschak is 72 and unable to drive due to medication she takes.
“You kind of lose your independence. Now you can’t go anywhere,” she said.
“A lot of times I will walk to Virgil, which my kids will give me heck for because I usually pick up stuff (to walk home with).”
When schools reopen, “the buses are going to start running in September, so what’s the problem?” Maryschak said. “A lot of times I used to just get groceries. There was a stop not far from Valu-mart where I used to wait,” she said, and then she would walk 20 minutes from her stop to her home.
Now she says her only option is to walk to and from the grocery store.
Mary McGrath, 76, lives with her daughter and son-in-law and said the transit shutdown has made her totally dependent on her daughter to get to appointments or access anything she needs.
“The cost is our freedom,” McGrath said.
“I think it is an essential service for people and it’s been a godsend we all love,” she said.
“I really don’t understand why, if the kids are going to go back to school, why they can’t have this bus back on the road.”
McGrath said alternatives, like taking a taxi, are not affordable for many people.
“It’s exorbitant, it really is and, when you’re on a fixed income, it’s incredibly difficult to make it all work, whereas the bus is just there, it’s perfect,” she said.