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.
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:
*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.