Tuesday, September 12, 2017

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Transit unveils new bus service

By Svjetlana Mlinarevic, Daily Herald-Tribune

Svjetlana Mlinarevic/Daily Herald-Tribune Coun. Helen Rice and Kevin O'Toole take a ride on the City of Grande Prairie's new vicinity bus on Monday in Grande Prairie. Four vicinity buses will run during off-peak hours at 2/3 the cost compared to a regular transit bus.


The City of Grande Prairie unveiled its new vicinity bus on Monday with the hope of improving service to residents.

“Basically, it feels like being in a 40-foot transit bus so we thought to bring in these. We’re calling it our Smart Sizing project,” said transit manager Jason Henry.

“What we’re noticing now in the evenings and weekends, and certain industrial areas, ridership isn’t as high so the demand for a larger bus just isn’t there. Larger buses cost more to operate so we thought we’ll bring in some smaller buses that are cheaper to operate during low ridership times.”

The 30-foot bus will carry 24 passengers and save the city 2/3 the cost of fuel of the larger 40-foot buses and half the cost to operate.

In March, the city will receive two electric buses with five more expected to join the fleet in 10 years at a total cost of $4.9 million – should the city approve and begin implementation of the Transit Master Plan.

Henry will present his master plan to city councillors on Sept. 18 which will see an increase in service, fares, and better infrastructure, but implementation is hoped to begin in September 2019.

He said current routes are built on one way loops “...so if you want to go from point A to point B it can take up to an hour.”

“The master plan we’re going to implement two-way routes so the frequency will be a lot faster and hopefully that transforms into more ridership,” said Henry.

The city will also increase the number of sheltered stops to 30% with the purchase of 98 shelters over 10 years at a cost of $1 million.

“It’s tied to passenger comfort and shelter from the wind and the rain...Our ratio now is, I think, 6% of our bus stops have shelters which I think is really low,” said Henry.

A new $1.4 million downtown hub and a possible $900,000 Westgate/Gateway hub will also be built.

The Transit Master Plan also calls for a new $15.75 million transit operations centre.

City documents reveal transit service levels and ridership are low when compared to municipalities of similar size. Yet, the city expects with service, route, and other improvements ridership levels will increase at a rate of about 6.7% annually (from 762,487 in 2015 to 1.4 million in 10 years after implementation).
Operating and capital budgets over the 10-year span are expected to hit $10.7 million.

The city hasn’t increased fares for more than 10 years, according to Henry, and he projects a revenue of $2.36 million at the 10 year mark of the master plan, a significant increase from funds generated in 2015 of $726,947. Documents cite improved service and routes and population growth for the increase in revenue.

Fares will increase from $2.25 in year one to $3.50 in year 10 for adults; $1.60 to $2.75 for students, and $1.60 to $2.75 for senior/child cash fares. Monthly passes will run from $60.80 to $94.50 for adult monthly passes, $43 to $78.80 for students, and $31.50 to $78.80 for seniors. Henry said the city is also looking at combining the senior and student passes to streamline the fare system.

The city will also install video screens on vicinity buses where ads will play related to passing businesses.

In order to promote transit in the city, Henry’s department will hold Transit Awareness Day on Sept. 18 where riders can use the system free of charge and will be treated to pizza, free tickets, and prizes.

“We’re looking at doing one community event every month going forward,” said Henry.

Twitter: @DHTSvjetlana