Town getting off On-it bus program
Black Diamond: Council decides ridership too low to continue with pilot project
Friday, Jan 12, 2018 06:00 am
Black Diamond is one of two Foothills communities pulling out of the On-it commuter transit pilot before it completes its second year this fall.
Black Diamond town council voted unanimously on Jan. 3 to no longer be a part of the program due to low ridership. High River council also voted to back away from the program a week later for the same reason.
The two-year pilot, which started in Oct. 2016, links Black Diamond, High River, Okotoks and Turner Valley to south Calgary.
Black Diamond will work with the Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP), which runs the program, to come up with an end date.
Mayor Ruth Goodwin said she supports public transportation, but there is not enough demand for the On-it service in the town. An average of two riders each day use the bus from Black Diamond.
“When you’re dealing with transportation, especially with a smaller community, a lot of people still take their own vehicle and they’re not encouraged to take public transportation until the roads are really crappy,” she said. “We saw a huge increase when it got really cold and the roads got really bad and on the free days.”
The CRP will meet on Jan. 18 and 19 to decide whether to subsidize the remainder of the pilot project from March 15 to Oct. 31, and to ask the remaining municipalities to decide if they want to continue the service.
If the CRP subsidizes the regional transportation project, it will cost Black Diamond approximately $17,000 for 144 days of service from the end of March until the end of October, she said. If it doesn’t, the bill would be about $41,000.
Goodwin said it doesn’t make sense to continue with the pilot.
“Based on the information provided concerning the cost, even with the subsidy, I can’t justify $17,000 for two people,” she said. “If there was many more residents utilizing the transportation I don’t think our council would disagree with the funding.”
Deputy Mayor Brian Marconi said he doesn’t support completing the two-year pilot project, with or without a subsidy from the CRP.
“I think we can do something better and say, ‘Here is another option we could consider,’” he told council. “Airdrie has a very successful inter-city transit system, but it goes downtown. Okotoks has one (a commuter bus run by Southland Transportation) running to downtown that’s very successful. That’s what commuters want.”
Coun. Jackie Stickel said having the bus go to just one location in Calgary is a deterrent for potential users.
“So many people disperse all over the city and that’s part of the problem,” she said. “I would hate to see it go, but it’s not a viable process at all.”
Coun. Sharon Hart told council a private bus service provided transportation from Black Diamond to Calgary and back in the 1980s and ’90s with much higher ridership, but times have changed since then.
“More people are able to carpool,” she said. “I see people communicating through Facebook and catching rides so it’s not the same. I honestly can’t see (On-it) moving forward.”
Low ridership was behind High River council’s Jan. 8 decision to opt out of the On-it pilot project.
“Four to six people a day just doesn’t make it feasible,” said High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass. “It’s a waste of money, period, for four to six people to subsidize a $700,000 project. I just can’t support that at all.”
Snodgrass said he’s not surprised by the low ridership in his community.
“It takes too long to get from High River to the south station in Calgary,” he said. “It’s over an hour by the time you do the stops in High River and Okotoks. We still love our vehicles around here and we are not giving them up for public transit yet.”
Snodgrass doubts the Town will look into other options for public transit in the near future.
“You do a pilot project for a reason,” he said. “It’s to tell you what the actual reality of the program is. I don’t need any more information to know that we just don’t have the interest right now.”
Public transportation is not off the books for Black Diamond though, said Goodwin. As Black Diamond council goes through its budget over the next several weeks, she said it’s going to explore other options for transportation.
Based on input from residents, Goodwin said councillors want to see transportation direct to downtown Calgary and midday service to Okotoks.
The Town has about $1 million in Alberta Transportation’s GreenTRIP funding that can be used for parking and busing in future years, she said.
“Maybe a feeder into Okotoks would be a good idea,” she said. “Hopefully, we can provide those commuters that are using our transportation system right now with alternate suggestions.”