One of the more expensive and contentious budget items is the high cost of Cobourg’s Transit System. Service is limited – not all areas are covered and there’s a one hour interval between buses. Further, buses are larger than would be reasonably required for usual ridership counts. The operating budget for 2021 is $1.3M and ridership is expected to be about the same as for 2020 which was 52,000. That’s an average of 142 per day – and split over 2 buses that’s about 7 per one hour trip. In addition, the accessible Transit service (Wheels) had much fewer users. Subsidies from upper levels of Government reduced the net cost to the Town to $943K which is 3.7% of the Town’s operating budget. The good news is that Director Laurie Wills is planning to do something about it.
In a meeting of the Accessibility Advisory Committee on December 16, Laurie explained the planned trial of Micro-Transit – also called On-Demand.
When fully implemented, this will have the following features/benefits:
- Integrate Wheels and Conventional service into one system
- Provide on call service to all users
- On-Demand will be faster than the fixed route, you will be picked up within 10 minutes.
- Allow the use of smaller buses and probably more buses
- Cover the whole Town
- Operate at a lower cost
- Because of service improvements, ridership should increase so net cost to Town would be less.
But first, there needs to be a trial and a transition. Implementation requires software to be purchased and configured and once that has been done, the idea is to use existing buses to try out the system in Cobourg. Director Wills answered questions and explained how this would work to the Accessibility committee – see their minutes below.
Highlights of Q&A session
- The pilot program (trial) will be for 12 months.
- The change will be phased in with users being able to request either Wheels or On-Demand (Conventional) service
- Fixed route stop locations would still be used even though they will not be following that route. People will have to call and be picked up from those stops.
- For areas outside the fixed route, there will be “virtual” stops that will be mapped out in advance. For example, New Amherst will have a virtual stop about 400 m from where they are, typically at bigger intersections.
- Once the pilot is complete, it will be possible to get smaller vehicles for a cheaper amount of money than replacing the existing bus.
- Following Council approval, it will take approximately 2 months to roll out the process with the programming of software and marketing of this to get the information out there. Approval (or not) will be at the Budget approval meeting on January b21.
- The buses will continue to do the regular route when it’s not booked. At the beginning of the pilot, the fixed route will continue but by the end of the pilot it’s hoped to not use that fixed route service anymore.
- Initially requests will be online but once the Covid-19 pandemic is over and staff can return to their office, then phone-in booking will be possible.
- Wheels will be incorporated without diminishing the service we already have, with the On-Demand you’ll be able to call and get a ride.
- Once the budget is approved, this project will open up for public input.
- The buses are ready for replacement and Director Wills said she wants to get through the pilot before purchasing new vehicles to see what the best option moving forward is for the purchase of new buses. The biggest bus/van we would ever get is 12 passengers.
- The Service will not cover Northumberland since it is financed by Cobourg. The County could choose to do something similar but it’s up to them.
In August 2020, Judy Smith first proposed this type of system – she used the example of Transit in Okotoks Alberta. See links.
Director Wills has added $40K to her 2021 budget to cover expected costs of the Trial.
- Minutes of Accessibility Committee – see item 7.3
- Town Considering Trial of Micro-Transit – 16 December 2020
- An Innovative Transit System – 31 August 2020 – Presentation by Judy Smith.