WHEELS OFF THE BUS

Col­lege stu­dents lose Amher­st­burg shut­tle bus

Windsor Star - - FRONT PAGE - MARY CA­TON mca­ton@post­media.com

The wheels on the bus go round and round — un­til they don’t. The loss of two fleet ve­hi­cles has forced Amher­st­burg Com­mu­nity Ser­vices to can­cel a three-year-old shut­tle ser­vice the lo­cal char­ity pro­vided to area stu­dents at­tend­ing St. Clair Col­lege.

“We’re down to a rick­shaw, we’re get­ting a lit­tle des­per­ate out here,” said Kathy Di-Bar­tolomeo, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. Me­chan­i­cal is­sues forced ACS to pull a bus off the road last De­cem­ber and just this week, a smaller ac- ces­si­ble van also had to be parked per­ma­nently. Fundrais­ing ef­forts to re­place the larger bus have been slug­gish. “We feel ter­ri­ble, we have some stu­dents who are in their last year and they’re up­set and right­fully so,” Di-Bar­tolomeo said. “We’re des­per­ately try­ing to come up with so­lu­tions.”

To make a bad sit­u­a­tion even worse, the CareLink Health Tran­sit bus used to get res­i­dents from point A to point B broke down Fri­day, strand­ing six tem­po­rar­ily in Wind­sor.

It was be­ing hauled to an Es­sex garage for re­pairs while al­ter­nate transportation was ar­ranged for the stranded rid­ers.

That left the ACS with one work­ing mini van that is not ac­ces­si­ble for those with mo­bil­ity is­sues. “It’s like a worst-case sce­nario,” said Austin Tyrrell, the group’s fundrais­ing co­or­di­na­tor. Tyrrell hoped the CareLink bus would be back up and run­ning next week.

As for the school shut­tle, that’s far less cer­tain. For the past three years, an av­er­age of nine stu­dents have used the ser­vice.

“I hon­estly don’t know what I’m go­ing to do,” said Vanessa Da­fonte, a third-year St. Clair stu­dent in the chem­i­cal lab­o­ra­tory tech­nol­ogy pro­gram. “I’m scared by this whole thing.”

The 19-year-old has paid $240 per month for the past two years to have the ACS shut­tle pick her up at the foot of her drive­way and drop her back there at night. “This is def­i­nitely not good news,” she said of the can­cel­la­tion. Da­fonte has her G1 li­cence but said com­mut­ing to South Wind­sor is not an op­tion for her. “Driv­ing is not re­ally my thing,” she said. “I’ll have to try and find other ways in.”

St. Clair Col­lege Pres­i­dent Patti France met with Es­sex County may­ors sev­eral months ago to en­cour­age move­ment on a re­gional tran­sit sys­tem, ac­cord­ing to John Fair­ley, the col­lege’s vice pres­i­dent of com­mu­nity re­la­tions. “Our stu­dents are from all over Wind­sor and Es­sex County, it’s not just a Wind­sor con­ver­sa­tion any more,” Fair­ley said. “Re­gional tran­sit that could take ad­van­tage of our col­lege would be great.” LaSalle started of­fer­ing pub­lic tran­sit, in­clud­ing a stop at St. Clair Col­lege, last fall.

“I think we’ve reached that point where peo­ple want ex­pand­ing (re­gional) ser­vice,” Amher­st­burg Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said. “That (ACS) ser­vice was def­i­nitely used and re­lied upon. It does high­light the big­ger is­sue of the costs to try and main­tain that sort of thing. I think re­gional tran­sit has been near the top of the list for all mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in On­tario.” DiBar­tolomeo said she’ll be “con­tact­ing other lo­cal agen­cies to see if we can share ve­hi­cles or ser­vices.” ACS has been try­ing to raise $75,000 to pur­chase a new ac­ces­si­ble 10-pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cle. Con­cours Mold Inc., which is owned by an Amher­st­burg fam­ily, has com­mit­ted to do­nat­ing $25,000 once the ini­tial $50,000 has been raised in the com­mu­nity. To date, how­ever, the to­tal is al­most stag­nant at $18,000.

“It’s very slow go­ing,” DiBar­tolomeo said. “It’s hard in a small town with lim­ited fundrais­ing dol­lars.” Any­one in­ter­ested in do­nat­ing can do so on­line at www.amher­st­burg-cs.com, by drop­ping by the of­fice at 179 Vic­to­ria St. S., or by phon­ing 519-736-5471.

Amher­st­burg Com­mu­nity Ser­vices ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Kathy DiBar­tolomeo is shown Fri­day with an out-of-ser­vice ve­hi­cle. The char­ity has can­celled its shut­tle ser­vice as a re­sult.

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