LITTLE CURRENT -- Getting around Manitoulin Island has just gotten a lot easier thanks to a new, free transit service.

The United Manitoulin Islands Transit Cooperative, or UMIT for short, is just weeks into its inaugural run and so far appears to be gaining steam.

"It's really exciting and it's really satisfying to know that we've started this process of removing the transit deficit from Manitoulin Island," said UMIT executive director Johanna Berti. "For young people, for elderly people, for elders in communities and so on, we're really pleased that we've been able to begin the process of getting them mobile between communities."

The first route began in late August and it's been free of charge as part of a pilot project with the Ministry of Transportation. The free fares are slated to last until January, but they are hoping to extend that through future partnerships in the community.

Had to own a car

"With no public transit, your only option was to either own a car or to have a relationship with someone who has a car who will give you rides and borrowing private transportation or relying on friends or neighbours to get you to work is a significant barrier to ongoing employment for a lot of people," Berti said.

They're currently serving about 40 per cent of the Island, including stops on the eastern end of Manitoulin. They are hoping to extend it to the entire Island by March of next year.

They also have plans to offer a transit on demand service through new technology in which they plan on hiring local, retired elders to sit behind the wheel.

While other transit companies have come and gone from the Island, including Ontario Northland, president Guy Dumas has high hopes for this latest incarnation.

He told CTV what will make them different is, for one, the technology they're using to connect riders between communities.

More freedom

"The bus allows for more freedom and flexibility," he said. "More opportunity to explore the many opportunities and the many great experiences this Island has to offer."

Dumas said he likes to tell people they're not in the transit business so much as the space-shrinking business, shrinking spaces between communities for those looking to get from one point to the next.

"It's very satisfying to be on the bus today, to experience what many people on the Island can experience and it's intended for everyone that's here on the Island, its 13,500 people," said Dumas.

Doug Mervyn is the man behind the wheel and he said it's been great getting to see and meet new people five days a week.

"Doctors appointments and stuff like that, and we have one guy from Mindemoya who travels here from his home every other day or so - it's pretty well a mix of people who travel," he said.

The Municipality of Central Manitoulin has also played a key role in helping to launch the service. Coun. Steven Shaffer sits on the board.

"Well my dream scenario would be that people are able to get to appointments and work without having the stress of having to find a way to meet their obligations," said Shaffer.

"It's a little early to see how it's going, but we have five years to prove this and fulfill that need so it's a nice collaborative effort."

UMIT is currently serving Little Current, Aundeck Omni Kaning, M'Chigeeng, Mindemoya, Sheguiandah, and Manitowaning.