Town Considering Trial of Micro-Transit

At the Council meeting on Monday and at the Budget meeting on Tuesday, Council were briefed on a proposal by Director of Public Works Laurie Wills to conduct a trial of a possible Micro-Transit system in Cobourg.  It would use full–size buses for the trial since the Town already owns these but if successful, new buses would be smaller and would possibly use hybrid technology.  The idea is that instead of a fixed route, buses would be effectively on-call with routes determined by software and based on demand. The advantages of a micro-transit systems are many: lower cost per rider, pickup locations closer to home, improved accessibility, far less wait times, faster and more direct trips, higher vehicle utilization, and increased service area. Cobourg currently has two parallel services: a fixed route service and an on-demand system for accessible transit.  When Micro-Transit is fully implemented, these would be more integrated.

There were several reasons that Staff investigated this option:

  • A Council motion in January 2020 to investigate the Uber subsidy system used in Innisfil – however Staff pointed to a number of negatives for this idea – See full report in Link
  • A presentation by Judy Smith in August (although this was not acknowledged)
  • “The Provincial and Federal Government have provided COVID19 relief funding under the Safe Restart Agreement which includes specific funding for municipal transit systems. As part of the Phase 2 funding requirements, municipalities with low performing services are being encouraged to consider whether they may be better serviced by microtransit.” That is, the Provincial subsidy may be used for micro-transit.
Transit Bus
Transit Bus

Staff researched various on-demand service vendors and all “determined that the Town of Cobourg is a great candidate for replacing fixed route service with an on demand service.”  The current operator of Cobourg’s Transit is Century Transportation which is a subsidiary of Pacific Western Transportation (PWT).  PWT have considerable experience with micro-transit in other locations and for the pilot, they plan to partner with RideCo (Cochrane Case Study).   Their current contract goes to December 31, 2022 but they have agreed to conduct a one year pilot program using existing buses.  There would be additional setup costs, including for software, which would amount to $40,000.

To call buses, riders can use a browser or a smartphone app or they can phone-in.

Staff are planning citizen engagement via “Engage Cobourg”, a Public Meeting presentation to Council via Zoom and open public forum for questions and answer period), education of existing riders with signage and personal contact.

In addition to the recommendation to have a pilot (trial) of a micro-transit system, staff also referenced the 2014 review of the transit system by IBI Group.  Their report recommended “providing more reliable and accessible buses, more shelters, more staffing, and subsequently increasing fares.”

Staff are therefore also recommending Fare increases:

  Single Fare Adult Monthly Senior Monthly Student Monthly
Current Fare $2.00 $60.00 $30.00 $50.00/$15.00*
Proposed Fare $2.25 $65.00 $35.00 $50.00/$25.00* 

*Student all day pass/Student after 2 pm pass

Discounted single ride tickets (10 for $16) will also be eliminated.

Payments will be possible via the web site or app or over the phone to the PWT call-in centre.

The current Transit budget is $650K per year for Conventional service and $240K per year for Wheels for a total of $890K.  Revenue from fares is around $157K and in a normal year total revenue would be around $365K with most revenue coming from a Provincial subsidy. So Cobourg’s transit is taxpayer subsidized by approx $525K. Revenue in 2021 is expected to be 75% of 2019 actual.  Laurie commented that even doubling fares would not help much.  (Revenue numbers are taken from earlier budgets – as in the previous meeting, most budget numbers were provided to Council members but not the public).

Councillor Emily Chorley asked for a comparison of costs for a Micro-Transit System.  Director Wills said that operating costs would be about the same but ridership is expected to increase so revenue from fares would be higher.  Also, capital costs for buses would be lower since smaller buses would be used.

Approval of the pilot project will happen (or not) at the final budget approval on January 21.  If approved, the new system would be phased in and there would be extensive public engagement.


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18 December 2020 11:53 am

A monthly pass in Toronto for a senior is about $175.00. Perhaps Cobourg should consider a higher pass charge to reduce the burden on all taxpayers.

Liz Taylor
Reply to  cornbread
18 December 2020 12:33 pm

TTC Website – current single cash fare for a senior is listed at $2.30 – $2.25 if using Presto, monthly pass is listed for $128.15, Yearly pass $117.45 unless one is purchasing a Downtown Express pass. Don’t think we are ready for Express Service Passes which are listed in Toronto at $174.05 for a senior.
For this year it also states there will be no increase to fares this year for anyone.

Last edited 2 years ago by Liz Taylor
Fact Checker
Reply to  Liz Taylor
18 December 2020 1:04 pm


You are correct about the senior cash fare of $2.30 and the other fares you mentioned (all senior) appear to be correct.
Unfortunately no information is provided on the proportion of senior riders to total ridership or the proportionate contribution of each fare category. Nor is there info on the average fare which indicates the effect of the discounted fares and provides a more accurate picture of what the actual “fare” is.

Considerably more information is needed by Council to support any decision regarding Cobourg transit fares.

Liz Taylor
Reply to  Fact Checker
18 December 2020 1:11 pm

Just answering Cornbread Fact Checker. Thought it best to actually have the correct fare listed. As we aren’t Toronto with its vast transportation system it is rather like comparing apples to oranges. Glad to know you are into facts Fact Checker – a very good habit.

Liz Taylor
Reply to  cornbread
18 December 2020 3:00 pm

cornbread – I am not again a review on senior monthly pass cost for unlimited rides. The cash fare is comparable if you prefer to compare us to Toronto. People that use the bus once and a while as compared to several trips a week seems a little lop sided number vs occasional. The software is currently available to show where buses are on route. It would be very confusing to not have dedicated routes to pin destination needs. However as John Draper says we’ll have to wait for further clarification and expansion – Engage Cobourg by Zoom was mentioned. I look forward to further details. As for the burden on taxpayers hopefully departments are using Best Practices Manuals and updating them with fresh ideas on administrative efficiencies first.

Reply to  cornbread
18 December 2020 3:59 pm

Would this $175.00 include using the Cobourg subway? You cannot compare Cobourg’s transit to the Toronto Transit System please.

Liz Taylor
Reply to  Conor
18 December 2020 6:15 pm

Conor – glad to see you support my point.

SW Buyer
Reply to  Conor
18 December 2020 6:36 pm

Liz & Conor,

It may come as a surprise to you, but most Cobourgers are smart enough to have figured this out without your help.

Liz Taylor
Reply to  SW Buyer
18 December 2020 7:14 pm

What’s that S.W.? Pass charges were incorrectly reported and there have been few comments. Generally SW I like your comments but not this one – have a nice day.

Merry Mary
17 December 2020 9:33 am

Smaller buses, already frequently used on Route Two, do not meet the space needs of people-people with walkers, shopping bags on wheels, and carry-on shopping bags.

Reply to  Merry Mary
17 December 2020 11:35 am

Good point Mary. In reading both the Cochrane Study and Staff Report I didn’t see any mention of accessibility – e.g. walkers, wheel chairs. I believe the Cochrane success is pretty much because their new service addressed areas where there was no service. I also agree with some of the comments below: Build it and they will come – really? and is a 5x increase in ridership really possible? Probably nothing to do with the question at hand but I wonder about the state of the depreciation of the current buses. I might have this wrong but if a fully depreciated (old) bus is replaced by a new bus doesn’t that stress the Towns bottom line, incurring greater contribution from taxpayers? I also note that the ‘setup and ….software costs … amount to $40000.’ This seems like an ante for the trial period. I wonder what would be the initial and ongoing (license, management, support, upgrade) life cycle costs?

Reply to  Merry Mary
18 December 2020 4:09 pm

The smaller buses now in use on Route Two have oodles of room inside for wheel chairs and grocery buggies. The seating is mostly along the walls with a wide space in the middle. At least on the ones I have encountered.

Liz Taylor
16 December 2020 4:14 pm

Will it be a win financially for the user if one must purchase a cell phone with accompanying plan capable of downloading the software app?

Reply to  Liz Taylor
16 December 2020 7:47 pm

For low income seniors Telus has a great deal , a cellphone , unlimited calling and 3 gigs of data for $25 , which would be cheaper than a Bell landline

Liz Taylor
Reply to  Mark
16 December 2020 8:08 pm

Thanks for the info Mark – currently have a refurbished phone from the provider, older model – does have unlimited calling and Canada Wide long distance – an important feature in Cobourg as you probably know as soon as you leave the town boundaries it is long distance and anyone who calls you from out of area you are also charged long distance for them calling you.

Ken Strauss
16 December 2020 2:30 pm

Director Wills said that operating costs would be about the same but ridership is expected to increase so revenue from fares would be higher. 

Yes, but… With the current system costs are not influenced by ridership; an empty or full bus costs the same to operate. With the new scheme, increased ridership will require more buses and more drivers and therefore more costs. Unless the fares cover operating costs which is unlikely at only $2.25/ride or $2/day for unlimited rides, more riders will necessitate larger subsidies by the taxpayers.

Last edited 2 years ago by Ken Strauss
Reply to  Ken Strauss
16 December 2020 3:47 pm

I am confused. With the new plan why would ridership increase? If you want my opinion which you probably don’t leave the system the way it is. These transit planners are always trying to build a better mouse trap. If you want to see a transit disaster look no further than Durham Region Transit. They have trashed almost all north south routes and have replaced it with an uber type service and do you think taxes will come down? Not a chance.

John Draper
Reply to  Ken Strauss
16 December 2020 3:48 pm

But if the ridership increases from 2 or 3 per trip to 10 or 15 per trip, new buses are not needed and it’s a win for the Town.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  John Draper
16 December 2020 5:03 pm

Perhaps I misunderstand the proposed system. You wrote:

To call buses, riders can use a browser or a smartphone app or they can phone-in.

I assumed that meant that it would be similar to a taxi or Uber. That is, I would use my smartphone to request a pickup and a micro-bus would soon arrive in my locale. I believe that is how it works in Innisfil for example. Without reasonably prompt pickup it would be as inconvenient as the current system but might save a little by utilizing appropriately sized buses.

Liz Taylor
Reply to  John Draper
16 December 2020 6:52 pm

Looking forward John to further explanation. Should one not have a cell phone nor be in an area where a pay phone is available and they certainly have decreased those, would there be regular pick ups still at designated bus stops? How would one know where the pick ups would be and how long? What would it do to designated routes or would there be any?

John Draper
Reply to  Liz Taylor
16 December 2020 7:42 pm

Best wait for the extensive engagement promised to learn more although it’s expected that people would phone from home. Try to be positive instead of looking for faults in the idea.

Liz Taylor
Reply to  John Draper
16 December 2020 8:47 pm

Hi John – I am very much looking to hearing further detail John. As a former administrative worker of the Licensing Commission in Toronto, cabs and other commercial plates UBER never appealed to me knowing what checks and training are required for licensed cab drivers. Hope you will excuse my eagerness.

Reply to  John Draper
17 December 2020 11:53 am

…but lets not forget, John, that I am the only one in the world without a cell phone! I can phone for the bus from home here, with the wall phone, but what do I do when I want to come home from an area of town, without that cell phone? Not a big town….guess I could walk, as we did in the ‘ole’ days! 🙂

16 December 2020 1:58 pm

Interesting to compare. For example, a senior user fee for the CCC is $30 a year (2019, noted on Town web site), where the monthly transit pass for a senior is $30 and proposed to change to $35 a month. Drop in fee at CCC is $1 per unit and it will cost $2.50 per trip to take the bus.

16 December 2020 1:53 pm

Why use those big buses in the first?Whenever one passes in front of my house,I see no more than 1 or 2 passengers riding.

John Draper
Reply to  Simon
16 December 2020 2:05 pm

The big buses are already owned by the Town so will continue to be used – at least for the pilot. If the Pilot proves successful, the next buses will be smaller.

Reply to  John Draper
17 December 2020 11:41 am

Like the Port Hope buses?