Concern over ridership numbers for the BOLT Regional Transit system has the City of Lacombe looking further into the service’s long-term viability.
Earlier this week, both Lacombe City Council and Town of Blackfalds Council were presented with a detailed service review of BOLT Regional Transit which currently offers six days-a-week transit service between Red Deer, Blackfalds and Lacombe.
Lacombe Mayor Grant Creasey says they essentially want to ensure the City is providing the type of service that would be best-suited for the community.
“We’ve sent it back to administration to receive some additional information,” says Creasey. “We’re looking at the costs and implications of ending the service and also of enhancing the service. I would suggest that obviously there is some discontent with the way that it is now.”
He says stats outlined in the April 24 BOLT Regional Transit Review clearly show ridership numbers from 2015 – 2017 have not changed substantially, although ridership from January – March of 2018 has increased to 5,609, up over 8.2 per cent over last year.
“There were some slight increases during various months but the overall average monthly ridership of 1,600 really only pans out to about just slightly over an average of five people per trip which makes it not very economical for a 38-seat passenger bus,” Creasey adds.
Utilizing smaller buses may be a direction the City could consider admits Creasey but he doesn’t anticipate that to be a likely course of action as it would require additional capital costs to purchase smaller buses.
“I have had input from some users and certainly the ones that use it often find it to be valuable to them but the unfortunate part is there just doesn’t seem to be enough of them,” laments Creasy.
Myron Thompson, CAO for the Town of Blackfalds adds it's hard to says they've always known introducing a service like this would require some work to build the numbers up.
“I think when you look at municipal services and the cost recovery, you’ll never have total cost recovery on any type of service," says Thompson. "That’s not what a municipality is set up for, so that would be something we could look at. What are we trying to achieve and kind of set those milestones.”
According to the report, the cost recovery level for BOLT Regional Transit in 2016 was 21 per cent, with revenues of $60,561 and expenses of $285,377, resulting in a per household subsidy of $46.87.
When compared to other revenue generating services, BOLT Regional Transit's cost recovery level in 2017 was 23 percent, lower than the LMC's 55 per cent, Pool's 52 per cent, Arena's 40 per cent, Planning and Development's 33 per cent and Police's 26 per cent.
Guy Lapointe, Community Economic Development Manager for the City of Lacombe says both municipalities recognize the value of the service but would also like to see a better return on the investment.
"They want us to come back with some possible alternatives for improving the service," Lapointe says. "There was some discussion about perhaps some better connectivities within the communities themselves and maybe an increase in frequency. So we acknowledged some of the public feedback that we had heard over time and Council would like us to take that information and some of the suggestions that they have and build some ideas."
Lapointe says it's hard to say at this point what ridership numbers would be needed to give the service a more viable outlook.
"The mix is important on that," he explains. "There's cash riders, there's pass riders and there's folks that buy tickets that lower their cost too, so depending on what that mix looks like, that number could change significantly."
However, from a Blackfalds perspective, Thompson adds they are pleased with the service and see the importance of it.
“I think we’ve taken a major step a few years ago to put a service in our communities, so I think that’s good,” Thompson concludes. “I think we just have to build on that and stay the course and expand that service and improve it.”
In the meantime, Burman University in Lacombe and it's Student's Association have put forward a proposal for BOLT to provide an additional Monday - Friday evening trip, Sunday charter service during the school year and cancellation of Saturday service beginning September 1. Burman University would provide a three-year commitment, collect a required payment of $200 from each student as part of their annual fees to cover the costs associated with the program and make that payment annually by September 30.
BOLT Regional Transit launched on August 26, 2014 and is cost-shared equally by the City of Lacombe and Town of Blackfalds while Red Deer Transit operates the service.
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