The wheels on the bus will continue going round for Black Diamond and Turner Valley residents wanting to commute to the big city.
Southland Transportation announced it will continue the regional On-it transit in Black Diamond, Turner Valley and High River. The transportation company is taking over the Calgary Regional Partnership’s (CRP) pilot project on March 1 to continue commuter transportation services to Calgary, operating as a private enterprise at no cost to municipalities.
Southland has been running commuter buses from Okotoks into downtown Calgary since 1994.
“We are doing this to, number one, minimize the changes that we put to the current customers and, secondly, to see if we offer a service that links Turner Valley, Black Diamond and High River with Okotoks to downtown Calgary is it going to attract more riders,” said Jonathan Weal, regional director for Southland Transportation. “At the moment it will stay the same, but we would hope in the future that we could work with the communities to introduce an internal transit system.”
Weal anticipates that maintaining transit service in the three communities to downtown Calgary will meet the needs of residents and attract new riders who may not have considered commuter service in the past.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be a success,” he said. “It’s there for the people. We put a service on and now we want feedback from them on what they want.”
The CRP launched the two-year pilot project in October 2016, but there was question whether it would last when Black Diamond, High River and Turner Valley councils each decided to not support the cost of running the bus service due to low ridership and uncertainty over the fate of the program with the CRP dissolving to make way for the Growth Management Board.
The system brought buses from the three communities to Okotoks and south Calgary where they could transfer to Calgary Transit at the Somerset-Bridlewood LRT station.
Since deciding to take over On-it, Southland committed to operating five commuter buses directly from Okotoks to Calgary, with one commuter bus from Black Diamond, Turner Valley and High River.
Weal said a small shuttle will pick up people in Black Diamond and Turner Valley. They will board a larger passenger coach in Okotoks that brings passengers from High River before heading to Calgary.
Together, Southland and On-it are currently running seven buses to Calgary. That will reduce to five on March 1.
“Instead of them being partially empty the five will be almost full,” he said. “At the moment you will have a mixture of On-it and Southland.”
Southland will blend the two commuter services into a single system and, over time, transition its original buses to the On-it brand, Weal said. Scheduling changes will be made based on public input, which can be provided at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/GQTZWL7
“Most of our plans depend upon the people of the towns,” he said. “We want to know would people want a Saturday service to Chinook or Southcentre Mall, would people like to see a commuter link between Okotoks and the South Health Campus? We are pretty much open to what does the public want.”
Buses will vary in size from 15 to 55 seats, said Weal.
The continuation of the commuter service in Black Diamond and Turner Valley is great news for Ruth Goodwin, a CRP board member and Black Diamond mayor.
“As a CRP board member I was very pleased to hear that Southland has agreed to continue to take on the On-it brand and service leaving our region with a legacy which represents all for the hard work that our communities put into the pilot program,” she said.
During tonight’s council meeting, Goodwin said Black Diamond Town council will discuss if it will allow continued use of the bus stop on Highway 7 and 1 Street SE for On-it. Council’s decision will be reported in next week’s Western Wheel.