Even as the finishing touches are still being put on a pilot project to extend bus service to Elmira, residents are being warned to “use it or lose it.”
Grand River Transit’s yearlong project will see buses connecting Elmira to the terminal at Conestoga Mall in Waterloo beginning Apr. 6.
Strong public support for the idea has to translate into ridership in order for the service to continue past the trial stage, Mayor Bill Strauss indicated during a GRT presentation at council Monday night.
“You’ve got to use it or lose it.”
“The onus is on the community to step up and use the service,” agreed Coun. Mark Bauman.
If the numbers seen in the public consultations so far hold when the buses start rolling, the service should be well used.
Transit planner Blair Allen said the turnout at public meetings and positive feedback have surpassed anything seen for other new routes added to the GRT’s service area.
In his presentation to council this week, he indicated approximately 91 per cent of survey respondents indicated support for a pilot public transit service.
After looking at a few options, including a larger loop of stops throughout Elmira, GRT has decided to go with the model that provides the quickest frequency of service – 30 minutes – with a few designated stops in Elmira and in St. Jacobs.
When the the route begins operating Apr. 6, service will be offered from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. The 30-minute service – two buses making one-hour circuits – will be offered during the peak hours of 6-9 a.m. and 3-6 p.m. during the week. On Saturdays, that will be 40 minutes, and 60 minutes during off-peak hours in the week.
The pilot project has a budget of $240,000, with costs growing to $320,000 if the service is continued and expanded to include more off-peak hours of operation.
Initially, GRT is looking to recover 25 per cent of its costs from ridership fares. If the service continues, that figure will likely jump to 50 per cent, Strauss suggested.
Noting that recovery rates “vary widely,” with the busiest routes on the main line in Kitchener-Waterloo covering some 80 per cent of costs, Allen said in an interview the system-wide rate is about 40 per cent.
Planners expect it will take some time to build up ridership, however. First, residents have to become aware the service is in place, and then begin to incorporate it into their lives, he explained, adding he’s optimistic given the public feedback.
“There’s definitely a latent demand,” said Allen, adding talks of a bus to Elmira have surfaced for years, even before the amalgamation of city services was turned over to Waterloo Region in 2000.
“The year before, in 1999, we were already getting phone calls asking ‘When are we going to get the bus up here?’” he said.
A regional planning and works committee meeting scheduled for Jan. 27 should move the project further along, to be followed by finalizing the stop locations in Elmira and selecting locations where bus passes and tickets can be bought in town.