Commuter transit pilot ending in March

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Low ridership and the dawn of the Calgary Growth Management Board are spelling the end for On-it Regional Transit.

The Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP) met on Jan. 18 and 19, where the On-it Regional Transit service was discussed after Black Diamond, High River and Turner Valley councils all opted to back out of the pilot project.

“The On-it program is going to wind down,” said Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson, who is chair of the CRP. “It will be finished definitely by the end of March.”

He said the CRP will hold its final vote on the matter Feb. 2.

The On-it Regional Transit pilot project was a two-year initiative that launched in October 2016, and was scheduled to end Oct. 5 this year.

The system saw buses from Turner Valley travel through Black Diamond to Okotoks, and from High River through Okotoks, to transport people to south Calgary, where they could transfer to Calgary Transit at the Somerset-Bridlewood LRT station.

Robertson said low ridership numbers meant the four municipalities involved in the project would not support the cost of running the bus service.

In addition, there was uncertainty over the fate of the program as the CRP dissolves to make way for the new Growth Management Board (GMB), he said.

Robertson said it’s disappointing to see On-it close down early.

“I believe we’ve had a successful pilot,” said Robertson. “I was hoping to see the pilot finish out until the actual date of Oct. 5, at the end of the two years, but I don’t believe it’s going to make it to there.”

“The timing of the Growth Management Board and the demise of the CRP have all conspired against continuing this on.”

He said the number of riders in Okotoks declined slightly over the last year as well, which he attributes largely to the economy.

Prior to the downturn, commuters to Calgary were faced with high traffic volumes and inflated parking rates. Taking transit was an option to avoid extra costs and frustration, he said.

“But parking rates are down, they’ve fallen dramatically and I think the last estimate was a vacancy rate of 27 per cent in downtown Calgary for office towers, which correspondingly means less workers going into the downtown and the traffic situation overall is a little better,” said Robertson.

He said there could be future options for transit systems in the area, though there are no current plans for a replacement project.

Public transit is still necessary, he said. For those who cannot drive or choose not to due to environmental concerns, he said it’s important to give options for residents to get around.

“It’s definitely necessary, but whether the Town of Okotoks can afford it at this time, that’s the multi-million-dollar question,” said Robertson.

Though Okotoks has not made its position official, he said there could be announcements soon.

The Town of Turner Valley voted to withdraw from On-it at its Dec. 18 meeting.

Deputy Mayor Barry Crane said there were a few factors at play in the decision, largely the birth of the GMB and consistently low ridership.

“We were very happy to be part of the pilot project itself,” said Crane. “The numbers for us were very low – one or two people a day if we were lucky. But that’s just the nature of living in the country, I guess.”

To continue with On-it would mean using taxpayer dollars to fund the program to the tune of $20,000, which he said isn’t feasible.

He said it was important for Turner Valley to test the waters and see what its residents were open to as far as transit. After a year-and-a-half, it’s clear the interest isn’t there yet.

“Intermunicipal transit is what we’ll look at now – how to feed into Okotoks, which is one of our major business centres for our residents,” said Crane. “We’re going to look at that as our new option of how do we help our citizens access the markets we need, and Okotoks has everything a small city has so that’s what we’ll focus on.”

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