Jan. 7, 2006. 08:15 AM
Darren Parberry likes to say that his people have provided public transit for hundreds of years.
For Parberry’s ancestors, the Metis, such transit came in the form of canoes. Now Parberry is paddling his own canoe in starting a bus service for the 55,000 residents of Caledon.
Last Monday, Metis Transit Ltd. opened for business with one leased school bus, no passengers and lots of optimism.
But at a cost of $350 a day, Parberry concedes if he doesn’t drum up some passengers — and soon — his dream will die an early death.
On Thursday he got his first encouraging bit of news — two weekly passes were sold for next week at $20 each.
Service is available Monday to Friday from 7 to 10 a.m. and 2 to 7 p.m. At this time he’s selling only weekly passes, not single rides.
“I need about 100 passengers a week to make it viable,” he said. “I’m doing a flyer drop in the town and hoping that generates some business. It’s up to the people now to decide they want public transit.”
The picturesque town north of Brampton is made up of former villages such as Bolton, Palgrave and Caledon East, with the built-up areas interspersed by farms, rolling hills and rural estates.
Residents depend on the car to get around. There is no municipal public transit service and no plans to provide any in the near future, town officials say.
But Parberry, 39, a colourful figure proudly sporting his red Metis sash, believes there’s a market there — for seniors and students especially — and it’s growing along with the population that planners project will hit 85,000 by 2021.
Mayor Marolyn Morrison concedes public transit will be needed at some point, but not now. “Maybe in 10 years,” she said.
“It will be very difficult to operate what we know as public transit throughout Caledon, which is 700 square kilometres and has all these little villages.”
Morrison boasts that her town has become debt-free but wouldn’t stay that way if it started a transit service now. That would be a financial sinkhole, she said.
But Morrison admires Parberry’s entrepreneurial spirit.
John Barnes, of the Bolton Residents Association, said a private effort to start transit service several years ago failed because of a lack of passengers.
“Most of the households here are made up of two- and three-car families,” Barnes said.
But he believes transit service would be helpful, especially for teens where many have part-time jobs along the south commercial strip on Highway 50. Those who don’t have cars either have to bicycle or take a taxi to work.
Tony Violi, chair of the Bolton Business Improvement Association, said he supports Parberry’s efforts and believes the community will benefit from the service.
“I do feel it’s needed and if he’s got the money and the will, why not? It’s a free country,” Violi said.
Parberry originally approached town council about two years ago requesting $350,000 in start-up money and/or moral support but was disappointed by the lack of interest. Still, that didn’t deter him from keeping his dream alive.
He set up a website (http://www.metistransit.on.ca) and searched for investors and ways to get the service off the ground while working at his regular sales job.
Officially, he has a charter bus licence operating on a six-month trial and if it is successful, he will add another bus and run two routes. His present service combines both routes and includes a link with Humber College’s north campus at Highway 27 and Finch Ave. in Toronto where there are also TTC, Brampton, Mississauga, York Region and GO transit connections.
Parberry has designated 30 stops on a route linking Caledon East, Palgrave and Bolton, operating on Peel regional roads. He has signs on utility poles indicating the stops, having received permission from the region.
Parberry, of Bolton, originally hails from Burleigh Falls and is obviously proud of his aboriginal heritage. He said he was fascinated by public transit at an early age and worked for Mississauga Transit for several months in a student co-op program.
There, he rode the buses regularly, doing passenger counts as well as observing how a large transit service operates from the inside.
Morrison noted she first heard through the grapevine about the launch of the bus service and wonders why Parberry didn’t go back to council to announce his plans.
“From my perspective, it would have been much better if he had worked with us instead of pretending he doesn’t have to,” she said. “Maybe if Mr. Parberry had come to us, we could have found some opportunities to hook up with Brampton Transit.”
Morrison has heard from some parents that transit service is needed for teens to get to the town’s youth and wellness centres or to malls outside the area and she agrees it also would benefit students attending Humber.
“But if I was a business owner in Caledon and thought my residents were going to be transported out of the area to shop, I’d be a little upset,” she said.
Parberry concedes he has skeptics, but it’s not stopping him from shelling out the $350 a day from his own pocket to get the service off the ground.
Getting the word out, he says, is his greatest challenge.
The word’s out.