Four southwest Calgary bus routes could flip to on-demand transit service as the city deals with record low transit ridership during COVID-19.
In an update to the city’s Transportation and Transit committee, Calgary Transit outlined ridership that’s still 75 per cent lower than normal. That’s better than the low water mark of 90 per cent below normal levels experienced during the coronavirus lockdown. It’s still projected to cost Calgary Transit $105 million in revenue by year’s end.
In May, Calgary Transit cut 25 routes, reduced hours on 40 others and laid off 430 workers. Later in June, to continue addressing lagging transit ridership, the transportation committee asked administration to identify fixed routes that might be low performing and not sustainable, for potential on-demand service.
In the report delivered Wednesday, the four southwest Calgary bus routes identified for potential on-demand replacement are: 94, 164, 439, 454. These are all in an area south of Highway 1 and west of Sarcee Trail SW.
It will also be the first time the service would be used on a fixed Calgary Transit bus route.
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.
“Based on our preliminary findings from our on demand pilot in the new communities of Livingston and Carrington, we did identify that there could be a possibility that on demand service might be valuable in areas that have fixed route transit service that is low performing,” said Chris Jordan, manager of service design at Calgary Transit.
Pandemic impact on Calgary Transit service
Jordan said the biggest factor in choosing these four routes was how they were impacted by the pandemic.
“The impacts of the pandemic took ridership that was suitable for community shuttle service and brought it down to levels that were not sustainable,” he said.
One of the routes was suspended because of exceptionally low ridership.
It’s expected that ongoing health measures and the continuing economic re-entry will keep ridership numbers low. Calgary coronavirus cases have risen steadily over the past 10 days. After the bylaw was approved July 21, masks will be mandatory in public vehicles come Aug. 1.
Jordan said the service roll out, should it be approved, will take further planning over the next six weeks.
“To identify the times of day and days of week, and the exact groups in which on demand service would be in effect,” he said.
Communication with stakeholders in the area (schools, community associations, residents) would start in September. Jordan said the service could be in place by mid-October.
Very little capital cost would come with the project, Jordan said. Though there would be a need for communication and training for employees.
Future application for on-demand transit
In June, Coun. Jyoti Gondek, whose ward was served by the original on-demand transit pilot project, said we should be looking at more ways to implement the service if it works.
“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,” Gondek said at the time.
Jordan said they’d review the results of this next foray before looking at other areas it could be used.
“It’s certainly a step that fits with the current conditions of the pandemic. We’ll evaluate whether it’s applicable or requires further modification in this area before we even look at other areas,” he said.
“Especially amid the conditions of Alberta’s relaunch, the economic recovery and respond of transit customers to the service itself.”