Commuter transit ready to roll next week

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Commuters in the Foothills will have another way to travel to Calgary starting next week.

The Calgary Regional Partnership’s On-It transit pilot project officially hits the road the morning of Oct. 11 as the first buses depart High River and Turner Valley around 6 a.m. They will pass through Black Diamond and Okotoks taking passengers to the Somerset LRT station in south Calgary.

“It’s a need in our region, it’s a growing community and eventually we need to get into transit,” said Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson, who is also the chairman of the CRP board.

The partnership and the four towns unveiled the buses Oct. 3 with events in each community and a tour through the Foothills.

The weekday service has four trips in the morning taking passengers to the Somerset station and four return trips in the afternoon. Two routes will depart Turner Valley and Black Diamond and follow a route through Okotoks. The High River routes will make stops at park and ride locations in Okotoks at the Pason Centennial Arena and the Okotoks Recreation Centre.

Full schedules, route maps, park and ride locations and fare information are available at onitregionaltransit.ca

The buses will also provide service from Calgary to Okotoks in the morning and Okotoks to Calgary in the afternoon. There will also be a local route within Okotoks with two buses in the morning and afternoon.

A one-way ticket from Okotoks to Calgary costs $6 and the price for a monthly pass is $155. A one-way trip from Turner Valley and Black Diamond to Okotoks will cost an additional two dollars. One-way trips from High River will cost eight dollars.

These prices do not include fares for Calgary Transit.

Riders will not be able to pay their fare on the bus and tickets must be purchased ahead of time, either online or in person at the Town office. Robertson said they eventually hope to have tickets and passes available for sale at more locations in town.

The On-It service will use coach-style buses with seating for 55 and on-board washrooms. Southland Transportation will operate the service, providing the buses, running a call centre, covering maintenance and cleaning.

The buses will be stored at a Southland facility in Okotoks.

The pilot project is expected to cost $1 million over two years.

The CRP is providing up to $500,000 per year in funding to the service, which will come from grant funds provided by the provincial government.

The four participating municipalities will pay an additional $106,000 combined to cover any extra costs above the half-million per year mark.

Robertson said transit service will build over time. He hopes to expand it to weekends, but it likely won’t happen during the two-year pilot project.

“There’s nothing yet on the weekends, but eventually it would be to have a more refined service, more extensive and to cover seven days a week,” said Robertson.

Okotoks Coun. Ray Watrin, who is a member if the CRP transportation committee, said it will be flexible with the pilot project and can make changes if needed.

He hopes commuters embrace the service.

“I’d like to see within the first year that we get at least 50 per cent ridership,” said Watrin. “I hope people really embrace this. It’s something that’s going to be great for the region.”

Black Diamond Mayor Glen Fagan said it will give people from Black Diamond and Turner Valley another way to get into Okotoks and Calgary.

“It’s a shared resource and it gives our communities opportunities to reduce their stresses in life, reduce their costs of commuting, gas, insurance and have reliable transportation to Okotoks, if they’re going here, or Calgary,” he said.

Fagan said it will help to develop ridership in the community, allowing the service to grow. He said he would like to eventually see a mid-day service, at least to Okotoks, but also to Calgary.

Fagan said Black Diamond would not be able to offer this type of service on its own.

“There would be no way that we could provide it on our own,” he said. “In all honesty, the cost of providing that’s always been the road block to having some kind of a transit system.”

Colleen Shepherd, CRP executive director, said it hopes to build ridership and a transit culture in Foothills communities, and the broader Calgary region.

The pilot project will help the four towns to start offering transit services without having to shoulder a heavy load all at once.

“The pilot is intended to, at the moment, capture the early and afternoon commuter, but we’re looking at obviously being able to expand our connectivity to other times and other parts of the region,” said Shepherd.

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