Grand River Transit’s Route 21 celebrated its first anniversary last week, but it’s the second anniversary that will be the test.
In February, the Region of Waterloo agreed to extend pilot service to Elmira for a second year. Ridership through 2009 was below the minimum targets but increasing toward the end of the year.
“The route hasn’t reached any of our local targets, but it’s approaching them,” said Neil Malcolm, transit planner for the region. “If we can get some continued improvement through 2010, it will reach the minimum targets.”
Average passenger loads on weekday buses. Each figure represents one passenger. In February, the Region voted to continue the pilot route for another year, at a cost of $376,000.
The target for the route is an average of 25 boardings per hour, spread over the hours the bus is in service. In December, the route reached 21 boardings per hour. However, ridership dropped in the first part of 2010, to 15 boardings per hour in January before climbing back up to 20 in February.
The busiest stops along the route are Conestoga Mall, where passengers transfer to other buses, and the St. Jacobs Farmer’s Market, followed by downtown Elmira.
The busiest times are midday, when people are using the bus to do shopping and students are taking it after school. Malcolm acknowledged that the route is not seeing commuter traffic patterns, which is the ridership GRT is hoping to attract.
“I think it’ll take time for people that are used to driving everywhere to make that switch or give it a try,” he said.
Route 21 is in the bottom third of all GRT routes in terms of ridership, although it’s doing better than some of the suburban routes in new subdivisions.
The operating cost of extending the pilot for another year is estimated at $376,000. If the route becomes part of regular GRT service, the net costs will be added to regional taxes for Woolwich Township residents. It’s estimated the bus route would add approximately $30-32 to each household tax bill.
Route 21 is the first GRT route that heads into the townships. Malcolm noted that the region has received requests from all the townships for bus service, and the Elmira run is the pilot that will determine whether other routes go ahead.
“With any route, it takes time to build,” he said.