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Calgary eyes expansion of on-demand transit service

More Calgary Transit could come in the form of on demand service as the north Calgary pilot project saw 50 per cent higher usage than projected.

Last August, Calgary Transit began its experiment of on demand service in the developing northern communities of Carrington and Livingston.

The service began since these areas couldn’t support a fixed transit system due to the low population. This pilot is meant to enhance Calgary Transit’s service delivery in those areas.

An update on the pilot project comes to city council’s priorities and finance committee on Tuesday.

Metrics measured by the on-demand transit pilot program. CITY DOCUMENTS

The city’s update suggests there’s an opportunity to expand the program to other lower utilized routes.

“The next step is to test for viability and scalability to determine whether these efficiencies can be achieved with low-performing existing routes and reduce transit costs during off-peak hours and weekends,” the city briefing note reads.

Any expansion would come within transit’s existing budget, the note read.

Predicting future ridership patterns

Coun. Jyoti Gondek, whose ward the program is in, said it allows for ridership patterns to be determined without having to implement a route.

“I think it further solidified the fact that people in Livingston and Carrington have the same types of ridership habits that you see in the communities south of them,” she said.

“There’s other communities in Calgary where we could do that but certainly if there’s applicability in other areas I’d like to look at it,” said Gondek.

The city’s report also outlined other advantages to the service, including no need for a call centre, no required physical infrastructure (bus stops) and the ability to respond in real time to detours or traffic snarls.

How transit on demand works

Using the free smartphone app called Calgary Transit on Demand, customers can request transit service between Carrington, Livingston, and North Pointe to be connected to fixed transit.

They can select the date and time of their choosing up to 48 hours in advance. Customers have the option to pay with a pass, ticket, transfer or in the app with credit card.

Gondek said there’s less risk involved and allows to better understand people’s behaviours and needs.

“You can map out exactly where they’re going and when they’re using transit, and I think that allows you to be much smarter about putting in permanent routes,” she said.

The project was tested out for a year, with the first seven months being successful and going above expectations.

The later months were impacted by less usage due to COVID-19. In the first seven months, the app saw nearly 1,700 downloads despite the goal being 200. The average customer satisfaction rating was 97 per cent and the target was 85 per cent. .

The report said that 15 per cent of on demand customers hadn’t previously used Calgary Transit, highlighting the increased ridership this model could provide.

Transit in north-central Calgary – including Green Line

While the on-demand service was a hit, Gondek said she doesn’t want to rely on it for north central Calgary. She emphasized the need for the Green Line development.

In a plan proposed by a group of four councillors – including Coun. Gondek – on-demand transit is identified as one method to provide transit while future Green Line plans to the north are made.

“I’m OK with looking at transit on-demand as an interim solution until we can get [the green line] up here but there’s absolutely no way I’m going to default to a mishmash of transit options permanently,” she said.

“It can’t be a situation where we decide that we’ll find other solutions for north central Calgary when the ridership up here has completely solidified the case for an LRT.”