The loss of Greyhound bus service in two smaller communities just outside Red Deer spurred those councils to come up with a publicly-funded bus service – but the program has had its challenges.
On Monday, Greyhound announced it would be ceasing service in Western Canada at the end of October.
But the town of Blackfalds and the city of Lacombe lost their regular Greyhound service more than five years ago.
The two towns came together to create BOLT – a regional bus service that runs from Lacombe to Red Deer with stops in Blackfalds.
Mayor Richard Poole of Blackfalds said his town is strongly in support of the four-year-old service, because it allows people who don’t otherwise have affordable transportation to get to appointments.
“We feel it’s an important addition to our community,” said Poole. “It allows for transportation between both Lacombe and Red Deer, so we have the best of both worlds.”
He said the program is funded jointly by Lacombe and Blackfalds, with each municipality chipping in approximately $225,000 annually. There’s also some advertising revenue.
The program is heavily subsidized. Last year BOLT collected about $72,000 in revenue from riders who pay $2 for a local trip, or $5 for a regional trip. Deals are offered for buying multiple rides at a time or with monthly passes.
Mayor Grant Creasy in Lacombe said the uptake has been poor, and his council recently voted by a very slim margin to give the service another two years.
He said the management body will be changing, and they will be looking for an increase in usage.
“There’s a few people who chose to use it for employment, there’s a few people who use it to go shopping, a few that may choose to use it for medical appointments – it’s kind of scattered,” said Creasy.
In 2017, 1,630 people used BOLT on an average monthly basis.
He said he thinks bus systems in general make sense in larger populations, and they’re doing everything they can to make it a success in Lacombe.
“Regionally, for intra-community – it’s a very hard sell and it’s a difficult thing to do in an economical manner,” said Creasy.