About halfway through the pilot project, Grand River Transit’s on-demand service in Breslau is facing challenges of low ridership and awareness.
“I think it’s fair to say ridership has been relatively low, but we want to really dig into the numbers now and start working on things to improve that awareness,” said Neil Malcolm, GRT’s acting director of transit services.
The pilot project of GRT route 79 is being funded by the province through Metrolinx at a cost of $175,000. The experiment started in July and will last for eight months. The first month was free for riders while the trip now costs the same $3.50 that other GRT rides do.
This is the first time that GRT has provided on an on-demand service with virtual stops, Malcolm said.
“So that’s part of the challenge – it’s new, it’s different. We have some key destinations that people can think over their trips, whether right in Breslau, the airport; Conestoga Meats is one of our key destinations out that way. And then of course, where the route connects to the other grid or transit routes.”
This is also a new experience for riders, Malcolm said.
“I think that’s part of the learning curve is how do I plan a virtual trip or a trip without a fixed route?”
To book a trip, riders download the GRT Flex app and register an account. Route 79 operates Monday to Friday, 6-10 a.m., 2-6 p.m. and 10:45-11:45 p.m. Riders can book trips up to two days in advance. Once a trip is booked, the app will combine the booking with the trips that other riders book to create the route. However there is not a minimum number of riders required for a trip to happen as long as it is within those hours, Malcolm said.
“We worked with some employers like Conestoga Meats to try to figure out what’s the travel times that most benefit employers, students and people needing to get to the airport and out to restaurants. Within those hours, if you need a ride, you would request the trip. And then you could take the trip as long as you’re within those service hours. So it’s not based on having to fill the bus, it’s just it only operates for certain periods of time,” he explained.
Although route 79 does service the airport, regional council has not approved any further expansion of transit services to that location, Malcolm said.
“I do think the region would benefit from additional transit services, connecting people arriving at the airport to our existing services, to Ion, to GO Transit – for example, customers that are arriving at the airport and want to travel into Toronto and GO Transit,” he said.
The route 79 pilot project will run until an unspecified date in the spring, at which time transit services will make a recommendation to regional council about whether or not the route should continue.
“What we really need to know is does it provide the hours of service you need? Does it provide the connections you need? Is there a difference? Should we do the pilot differently? Or if we had increased service would we do it differently for that area? So now’s the time I think for people to go out and try it because it is a pilot service,’ Malcolm said.