More on Micro-Transit Trial

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.


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18 January 2021 10:30 am

In Alberta, Cochrane and Okotoks are trying out the on-demand system. It seems that Cochrane is viewing it as a step towards establishing some permanent routes as rider usage increases. Issues arising from last minute cancellations which mess things up as popularity of the door to door service grows has Okotoks considering suspension of service or fines to those individuals. It seems a blend of the two, core main routes with fixed stops and on-demand service as feeder lines (both for destination and outside main service hours), may be a workable goal. Any of these programs need monitoring and adjustments over time. I do recall that Innisfill’s experiment ended up costing that municipality a lot more over time for the subsidized on-demand service.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  MiriamM
18 January 2021 11:30 am

Any of these programs need monitoring and adjustments over time. I do recall that Innisfill’s experiment ended up costing that municipality a lot more over time for the subsidized on-demand service.

I believe that the increased costs in Innisfill was due to increased usage. An “on demand” system, such as proposed for Cobourg, that is popular will necessitate more mini-buses and more well paid drivers; the current system costs the same regardless of usage.

Reply to  MiriamM
18 January 2021 12:55 pm

As Council first studied Innisfill as their model for this plan and all the consequences why then would they decide to proceed? Apparently this considered system costs more. Is a total switch to UBER on the horizon – “after pilot project – this was a cost failure therefore we now propose ….” If you’re a cab company owner you may wish to keep your eye on it.

Last edited 2 years ago by Liz
Laurie Vandewater
17 January 2021 3:47 pm

I don’t use the buses, but am wondering if the new proposed service guarantees that someone who needs to get to work by bus every day at a specific time will have their needs met?

Last edited 2 years ago by Laurie Vandewater
17 January 2021 1:47 pm

Some math as I see it: 1.3mil$/52K users is 25$/user ANNUALLY (just about the cost of 1 taxi ride (return) or 8.8 kms). For me Governance is more than just business principles but quality of life for the citizens governed. And YES these tenets collide sometimes. There is no cookie cutter approach here, yes there are best practices but even these best practices cost money. Gaaawd knows we don’t need another consultant report to affirm this. So lets look at other areas to be pared. Ken Strauss recent Letter to the Editor itemized a substantial list of questionable spending. Please take a gander at this list, there is lots of fat on those bones and hopefully Council will target these instead of worrying whether they’ve got it right on what I consider to be a quality of life issue!

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Gerinator
17 January 2021 2:47 pm

Geri, I don’t understand your arithmetic. It is $25/rider each time that they ride rather than annually. Looked at differently, it costs the taxpayers $23 or more every time someone uses the bus. It would be cheaper to pay for a taxi for each rider.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
19 January 2021 11:36 am

Ken, my read of the above is Annual Cost of 1.3Mil$ and Annual Ridership is 52K. Therefore the 1.3M$/52K=25$/rider Annually. What am I missing?

Reply to  Gerinator
19 January 2021 12:43 pm

As discussed below in my post to you, Ken and Cornbread, the amounts that you are using are incorrect.
The cost subsidy per ride is not an annual amount. It is the subsidy for each and every ride, all 52,000 of them by your calculation.

The 52,000 you used is the estimated 2020 conventional ridership. The 13,360 wheels ridership has to be added to get the total 2020 ridership of 65,360

As indicated below, the 2020 data is not useful for this analysis: too many compromising factors such as no fares and reduced “covid” ridership.

The expected 2021 ridership is 83,860, not 52,000 (from 2020).

You used the 2021 estimated total budgeted gross cost of $1.3M ($1,259,685). The cost per ride is calculated on the net transit cost (gross cost less fare revenue and Gov’t subsidy) of $943,538. This yields a Town transit cost subsidy of $11.25 per ride.

As also indicated below, this is a 78.6% increase over the 2019 ridership subsidy of $6.30

Last edited 2 years ago by Bryan
Ken Strauss
Reply to  Gerinator
19 January 2021 6:02 pm

There are nowhere near 52,000 actual riders in Cobourg since our population is less than 20,000 and most never use a bus. More accurately a few hundred actual people ride the bus multiple times and in total they cost the taxpayers $1.3M each year. Even if every man, woman and child in Cobourg rode the bus last year it cost the taxpayers $65 for their rides.

If we use Bryan’s numbers each trip costs the taxpayers $11.25 per trip. This taxpayer cost is similar to the charge for a taxi which is far more convenient than freezing in a bus shelter for 30 minutes waiting for the next bus. The town could reduce taxes by paying $10 of the fare for anyone who uses a taxi!

Further to Bryan: Whether a portion of the cost is paid by Federal or Provincial grants, it is still funded by the taxpayers so please don’t distort the numbers by saying that we get free money from Santa!

Last edited 2 years ago by Ken Strauss
Reply to  Ken Strauss
19 January 2021 7:13 pm


There was never any attempt to claim that Gov’t grants were free money. We both know (and hopefully others also) that there is no free Gov’t money. It all comes out of our collective wallets.
The context of the discussion was from the perspective of a Cobourg property taxpayer, and from that perspective, transit costs are net of Gov’t grants.

Last edited 2 years ago by Bryan
17 January 2021 10:43 am

At a cost of about $25 per ride and a recovery of about $2.25 a passenger ride, our previous and current council members had/have one huge nerve to ask the majority of Cobourg taxpayers to subsidize this system to this extent.

Reply to  cornbread
18 January 2021 12:59 am

Gerinator, Ken & Cornbread,

Wow, numbers all over the place and mostly off target.

Try this, from the 2021 ops budget, PDF pages 108-110 of 256:
The 2020 budget and YTD are of no analytical use due to the significant covid ridership decrease and the “no fare” period.

For 2019 actual:
Fares Revenue $137,529 Total Revenue $141,092
Total cost $1,080,166 Cost net of provincial subsidy $848,666
Total net cost $707,574

Cash fare $2.00
Tickets 1.60
Adult pass 60.00
Senior 50.00
Student 30.00
Student after 2:30pm 15.00

Ridership, Regular + Wheels: 112,226
Average ride revenue yield: 137,529/112,226 = $1.23
This is only 61.5% of the $2 cash fare and fairly consistent from 2013 when IBI did Cobourg’s last transit study. As IBI noted, Cobourg discounts the tickets and passes somewhat more than other transit systems. Hence the low revenue yield per ride.
The Cobourg transit fares have not changed in at least 17 years.

The gross cost per ride is $7.56 and the net cost per ride is $6.30

From the 2021 transit ask:
Fares Revenue: $103,147 (75% of 2019 YTD) Total Revenue: $111,147
Total cost: $1,259,685 Cost, net of provincial subsidy: $1,054,685
Total net cost $943,538

Average ride revenue yield from the 2019 calculation: $1.23
Estimated Ridership, Regular + Wheels: 83,860 (103,147/1.23)
The gross cost per ride is $12.58 and the net cost per ride is $11.25

To summarize:
The average revenue per ride is $1.23
In 2019 each transit ride cost the Cobourg taxpayers $6.30
For 2021, staff is proposing that the subsidy be increased 78.6% to $11.25

Reply to  Bryan
18 January 2021 9:49 am

Forget the NET position…someone, somewhere in Ontario is also taxed and is subsidizing the rides in Cobourg to the tune of $205,000. The point is, if Cobourg wants to have “transit” the people that use it should help pay more of the cost.

Reply to  cornbread
18 January 2021 10:13 am

Totally agree. In 2014, IBI recommended a modest transit fare increase. Council, of the day, perhaps wary of voter pushback (2014 was a municipal election year) shelved the report and did nothing. Perhaps this Staff and Council is mere enlightened and will make the tough decision too do the right thing.

16 January 2021 6:46 pm

Disguised promoted better serivce, instead of service cut. Yet to be established:

  1. How fare to be paid – cash drop in when picked up or prepaid
  2. Need for Cell Phone or seldom found pay phone
  3. Current either route – 1/2 hour service pick up if using either route, stated previously on Micro Transit – 1 hour service when program is fully adopted, 2 day booking requirement – on event days will this become inaccessible bus service – too bad we are booked!
  4. Fixed route fuzzy – seems you could stand at a bus stop and never be picked up unless phone call made
  5. Hook – we will pick you up at your door – maybe but there is planned increase to bus stops where pick up will occur – previous statement up to an hour for pick up – 2 day advance booking
  6. Figures based on COVID-19 Pandemic year and projected years not regular growing use.
  7. Their error in bus selection size – should have started with smaller until service grew.
  8. If you have a car and ignore the fact Cobourg is growing it will be platible.

Too many unexplained aspects. Smells more like a service cut.

Last edited 2 years ago by Liz
Reply to  Liz
16 January 2021 10:21 pm

Does Liz = Liz Taylor? Reads like it does.

Reply to  Frenchy
16 January 2021 10:40 pm

Hi Frenchy – Yeah that who it is. After many a negative comment about not using a real name I used my real name. Felt it brought too much attention generally – as it did for my mother whom I was named after. As I said in earlier subject my father said he had the name first when he named me after my mother who had no middle name.

I would be surprised if I get positive attention in my last comment – so many people here with cars that feel public transit is a waste of money rather than a real blessing for those that don’t have cars – Conor states in Oshawa/Whitby there are many problems with it. Don’t think using the COVID period is a good example of the actual use of service which when I have taken it was far from empty during normal times however they should have started with smaller buses until the town grew and the use grew. So with reduced revenue Council will be looking to do service cuts especially if they feel they will gain support from any services they feel they can.

Last edited 2 years ago by Liz
Reply to  Liz
17 January 2021 10:11 am

Hi Frenchy – Yeah that who it is. After many a negative comment about not using a real name I used my real name.

Don’t let the “pseudo haters” bug you. Mostly just hot air and not uncommon for them being hypocrites and using pseudonyms themselves. I guess their rationale is as long as you don’t use one on this site it’s OK.

Reply to  Frenchy
17 January 2021 8:49 am

seems on this site, that if someone does not want there name devulged, that it should be respected?

Reply to  greengrass
17 January 2021 10:00 am

Couldn’t agree more.

Wally Keeler
Reply to  Liz
16 January 2021 11:35 pm

Did you mean palatable?

16 January 2021 6:35 pm

Cobourg should be thankful Laurie Wills is looking into this.

Reply to  pdr
16 January 2021 10:20 pm

Kinda, but I think our Transportation Committee was looking into this long before Laurie got to step in and take the credit.

16 January 2021 6:27 pm

How does this all fit in with the super secret transportation talks between the Three Amigos? By the time that trio get around to doing anything we’ll all be flying around like the Jetsons.

16 January 2021 5:42 pm

This micro-transit is nothing more than bafflegab. You can kiss your transit good-bye as you now know it. Soon you will see that Uber is running the show. All you need to do is see what has happened to Durham Transit. A total unmitigated disaster.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Conor
16 January 2021 6:20 pm

Conor, “unmitigated disaster” is a good description of Cobourg’s current transit system so “kissing it good-bye” would be great news. John noted that the current system served 52,000 riders for $1,300,000. That is $25 each! A taxi ride is half of that price. The bus only serves a portion of the town and only once per hour for even that portion. How could it be worse?

Last edited 2 years ago by Ken Strauss
Reply to  Ken Strauss
17 January 2021 12:39 am

Catching the bus from Walmart pre-COVID each route was spaced a 1/2 hour apart, not an hour so you could take either or. You seem good with cost analysis Ken what are the figures for Toronto transit per passenger especially during COVID 19? I have never seen public transit operate at a profit anywhere just like Parks and Recreation programs – they are all taxpayer subsidized.

Reply to  Liz
17 January 2021 1:32 am

What are you talking about? The no. 1 bus stopped at Walmart once per hour, just before the ½ hour, on its way to North’d Mall. The no. 2 bus never went anywhere near Walmart.
The no. 1 goes up Strathy just after the ½ hr. but not into Walmart.

Reply to  JimT
17 January 2021 7:17 am

I don’t take the bus that often Jim perhaps I am mistaken. I had thought Walmart must have been N. mall. I had a choice as there were two buses and my destination allowed me to have a choice either through downtown or along Elgin Street. 1/2 hour times apart were posted and I soon discovered either bus took me where I was going. I was taking the bus to return home after shopping not going to Walmart as then I would always take a bus that ran northbound on Division. However if Micro Transit comes in I do have an option never to utilize the service. The fare payment has never been explained.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Liz
17 January 2021 9:19 am

…if Micro Transit comes in I do have an option never to utilize the service. The fare payment has never been explained.

Liz, you will have an option of never using the service but the taxpayers will still have to pay for the unused service.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
17 January 2021 9:51 am

Ken – taxpayers pay for road maintenance – some people don’t drive, taxpayers pay for Parks programs, some people don’t use them, taxpayers pay for social services, some people don’t use social services, some people don’t have children yet they designate for school taxes. So it is with public transit – don’t see how you are going to avoid paying for things that are covered by society’s umbrella unless you move to a remote island with no services governed separately.

Last edited 2 years ago by Liz
Reply to  Liz
17 January 2021 2:08 pm

Not to mention the beach

Reply to  Conor
18 January 2021 7:19 am

If tourists came here to use the transit they would pay to ride it. Tourists use our beach for free at our expense. No revenue to offset expenses. You did a good job to highlight the difference.

SW Buyer
Reply to  Liz
17 January 2021 11:05 pm

By that logic, every municipality in Ontario should have transit. But many don’t.
Wonder why?

Reply to  SW Buyer
17 January 2021 11:14 pm

What municipalities are those SW? Please elaborate as to which municipalities otherwise discussion is impossible.

Last edited 2 years ago by Liz
Merry Mary
Reply to  Ken Strauss
17 January 2021 7:33 am

The Two Route Buses serve wide portions of the Town where the demands are most prevalent- demands which are based on frequent transit surveys.

ben burd
Reply to  Ken Strauss
17 January 2021 8:26 am

So what are you going to spend your tax savings on Ken when you reach nirvana and celebrate the death of public transit in Cobourg. Perhaps it will join the pennies you are going to save when you reform the Hydro operations!

Penny wise and pound foolish.

Last edited 2 years ago by ben burd
Ken Strauss
Reply to  ben burd
17 January 2021 9:23 am

I’m certain Council will squander any savings on useless projects such as an adult playground.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
17 January 2021 1:29 pm


ben burd
Reply to  Ken Strauss
17 January 2021 11:12 am

Just another thought Ken, if “pick ‘n play” taxes ever came into fashion just what would you pick to pay for? And God help you if you ever lose the ability to drive around Town for your waste-hunting expeditions – you might have to take the bus!