Karen Kirkwood-Whyte Chatham-Kent Municipal Councillor for Ward 6 - Chatham. January 31, 2019. (Photo by Greg Higgins)

Councillor Kirkwood-Whyte aims to improve transit service

One of the newest members of Chatham-Kent Council is looking to make a difference to transit within the municipality.

Councillor Karen Kirkwood-Whyte held the first Transit Task Force meeting on February 15. She presented a motion to council in December requesting the implementation of the task force, which she is the chair of.

Kirkwood-Whyte got the idea for task force while she was campaigning for her council position last fall.

“I issued a call for comments and input from local citizens to let me know what is of concern to them and I’ll see what I can do to address whatever they’re concerned about,” she said.

While campaigning, Kirkwood-Whyte received an email from a resident who expressed some issues she was having with the current transit system. Kirkwood-Whyte met up with the resident and the two took several bus rides together so the future councillor could see first hand some of the challenges residents face while relying on bus service.

“We got together with this transit rider and decided if she had some input to provide, there were probably other people that had input as well,” explained Kirkwood-Whyte.

Before she was formally voted into council Kirkwood-Whyte worked with her team to create a Chatham-Kent Transit feedback survey. The survey featured 21 questions regarding transportation shortcomings and received around 380 responses.

According to Kirkwood-Whyte, transit reliability is a reoccurring problem she hears about from residents. She said one-third of survey respondents indicated that getting to work on time was one of their biggest concerns with using the bus.

“It’s important for people to get where they’re going. To be able to get to work, to be able to do their shopping and move around,” said Kirkwood-Whyte. “I’m looking forward to the dialogue we’re going to be having with regular transit users as well as those folks who said they would take advantage of a transit service if it was a little more reliable than it is now.”

The Transit Task Force, made up of two municipal councillors and five local citizens, will now look at all the results and go from there. Although the task force’s monthly meetings are not open to the public, residents are invited to get in touch with Kirkwood-Whyte if they wish to make a deputation during the meeting.

“The work of the Task Force, which will include input from the general public and will align closely with work to be undertaken by staff members employed in the municipality’s engineering and transportation division,” she said.

Findings from the task force will be made into a report outlining a transit strategy. The report will go in front of council later in the year in preparation for the 2020 budget process. Kirkwood-Whyte is also hopeful that recommendations from the group will work their way into 2021 when several transit contracts in the municipality are set to expire.

Chatham-Kent staff are also working on a separate transportation initiative by hosting a community cafe on Thursday where residents can share their input on a number of transit-related topics.