The operators of the Great Blue Heron Charity Casino are hoping daily transit service to the Scugog Island gaming hall is in the cards.
The Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation have forwarded a formal request to Durham Region Transit officials, requesting that consideration be given to extending service to the gambling facility in the near future.
The transit provider has been seeking input from the public in recent weeks as it considers its options for future expansion through its long-term transit study.
In a letter to Scugog councillors dated Feb. 9, the Mississaugas council states the First Nation community and other area residents "have always had a need for a bus route that extends service to Scugog Island."
Such a service would provide residents with a connection to other areas of Durham and beyond where they could access medical appointments and other daily needs such as commuting to work and school, said the Mississaugas officials.
The letter, signed by Chief Tracy Gauthier and councillors Della Charles and Kelly LaRocca, also requests that transit officials consider routing a bus northbound on Island Road -- directly past the Great Blue Heron casino -- to the northern tip of Scugog Island before looping around to serve residents on the island's eastern shoreline.
"Such service could be extended in a number of permutations, but we believe that a case could easily be made to support a route that runs at least twice daily during the week and on weekends," state Mississaugas officials.
The Mississaugas also subtly reminded transit officials that a small portion of the revenues from the Scugog Island gaming hall are shared with Scugog and Durham.
"Given the strong partnerships that we have developed with the Region of Durham and the Township of Scugog, particularly since the advent of the casino and the distributions that flow there from, we hope to forge new ways of improving upon the lives of our constituents on both a short- and long-term basis," wrote the councillors.
A call placed to Mississaugas Chief Gauthier for further comment was not returned. A copy of the letter already included in the Scugog council agenda was instead faxed to the Star.
When preliminary work on the strategy began 18 months ago, no concerns were raised by the Mississaugas of Scugog Island or any other First Nation groups, said Durham transit's Phil Meagher.
Follow-up attempts were also made to contact the groups, but no messages were returned, said the transit system's deputy general manager of operations.
Last month, continued Mr. Meagher, DRT officials received a couple of calls from the Scugog Island First Nation requesting "bus service to the Great Blue Heron casino and also some sort of bus route on the island."
Preliminary work on bringing transit service to Scugog Island began in 2007. However, said Mr. Meagher, DRT officials were handcuffed by provincial regulations that clearly state gambling "employees and customers can't ride on the same bus together."
That stipulation has hampered the plan to date, he said.
"We know there's probably a need up there. It's a matter of money and how to implement the service and the (provincial rules)," said Mr. Meagher.
"If I put a bus on the island, do I avoid the casino?" he asked.
At some point in the future, Mr. Meagher noted, he forecasts some sort of resolution which would perhaps allow for two trips each in the morning and afternoon to the island.
"But I'm not sure when that would happen," he added, stressing a business plan would still have to be drafted and endorsed by Regional council.
As for the idea that the casino's cash contributions could influence any decisions, the deputy general manager of operations said that fact has no bearing on transit decisions.
Scugog Ward 3 Councillor Lynn Philip Hodgson, who represents Scugog Island residents, applauded the idea os a bus to the island.
"I'd certainly support it," he said, noting it was time for transit officials to "take a good, serious look at it.
"But the problem is, of course, money -- can we afford it and will there be the ridership," said the Ward 3 councillor.
He noted, however, that there were some "growing pains" when transit was initially introduced to Port Perry a few years ago.
"It started off very slowly and with very few riders, but it started to grow when word got around," said Coun. Hodgson. "It would take some time for word to get out there."