The bus service linking Elmira and St. Jacobs to Waterloo will be extended for another year, as ridership numbers show an upward trend. Waterloo Region is also looking ahead to potential tax increases to cover the cost if the service becomes permanent.
Grand River Transit’s route 21 began operating last April, connecting Elmira with the Conestoga Mall transit terminal, with stops in the St. Jacobs core, at the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market/Outlet Mall and the new Wal-Mart-anchored power centre.
Overall, the route has so far demonstrated positive ridership trends, according to a report from the department of transportation planning at the Region of Waterloo, as the average weekday ridership rose to about 315 from the 158 riders in April.
“We looked at ridership from April until December and the trends were good,” explained Neil Malcolm, a transit planner for the region. “We started quite low in April with the initial service and then every month it went up and up and up. We were approaching some of our targets – it didn’t quite get there, but it is moving in the right direction enough to keep going for at least another year.”
Positive feedback from high school and university students, commuters and seniors who have used the service suggests that it provides Woolwich residents a valuable transportation alternative, explained Malcolm, and is worth pursuing further.
Based on previous experience with new routes in urban areas, the region has determined a one-year trial period may not be sufficient to fully evaluate a route’s ridership potential. A new route in a rural township would also require more than a year to achieve its ridership potential, the report found.
The net operating costs to extend the pilot service for Route 21 for another year are estimated to be $376,000. That expense will be covered by the GRT’s capital reserve fund, the same source used for the first year of the pilot service. If the decision is made to establish this route as part of the permanent GRT service schedule, then the net costs associated with the service will be area-rated to Woolwich Township residents. Based on 2010 assessment, the net cost per household is estimated to increase by $30-$32, representing an additional 2.3 per cent on the regional portion of property tax bills.
“Right now the township doesn’t pay for transit in the urban area, but if it does well and the route becomes permanent, then we will have to discuss with the township how much they will have to pay for the route,” said Malcolm.
Formal regional council approval of the extension is still pending. The issue is on the agenda for the Feb. 24 meeting, and Malcolm said he sees no reason why the approval would not be granted.