By Mabell, Dave on November 27, 2019.
For Lethbridge, it’s unusual.
Passengers are filling Lethbridge Transit buses, downtown and across westside neighbourhoods.
Service frequencies have been stepped up to meet the demand, with more University of Lethbridge students avoiding parking fees by taking the bus.
During peak hours, overflow “Extra” buses are being provided to carry more students across the river.
And a number of fresh Nova buses have arrived to replace some of the City’s older, high-mileage transit vehicles.
“There has been very significant growth,” says transit manager Kevin Ponech.
Service has been stepped up, and “the student body seems to really appreciate it.”
Expansion of the “UPass” program for University of Lethbridge students is clearly the biggest reason more Lethbridge residents are catching the bus.
In 2017, when just the university’s graduate students were using the pass, September ridership figures showed 677 trips using the UPass on the City’s busiest bus route, across the river.
A year later, with all university students eligible, that number jumped to 10,303 trips in September. Earlier in 2018, U of L students voted to build the cost of the UPass into their students’ fees.
This fall, with the program’s growing popularity, there were 16,842 trips across the Oldman River using the bus pass this September.
And with many U of L students living west of the river, passenger counts on Lethbridge Transit’s five westside routes were still higher. The transit system’s data tracking system shows the number of trips using the UPass in September jumped from 51,106 a year ago to 63,584 this year.
To handle the heaviest loads, morning rush-hour service on the Sunridge-RiverStone route has been doubled to provide a bus every 15 minutes. And on the Indian Battle Heights route, Lethbridge Transit now provides a 10-minute frequency during peak periods on weekday mornings – similar to rush-hour service in much larger cities.
Not surprisingly, overall Lethbridge Transit ridership is showing a healthy increase as well. Passenger counts rose from 115,886 in September 2017 to 136,526 a year later. And numbers were up again this September with 147,933 men, women and children hopping aboard.
Ponech says the number of new riders has exceeded expectations. But the transit system has responded by adding extra service where it’s needed.
Part of this year’s increase, he suggests, could be related to the new downtown terminal – where passengers can wait inside, out of the wind or snow.
“We’ve had a very positive response,” Ponech says. “People are saying we needed it years ago.”
The terminal also allows passengers to transfer safely from one route to another, he points out. At the old 4 Avenue stops, many passengers had to wait for a traffic signal, or two . . . possibly missing their connection.
Or some darted across the street, ignoring the traffic lights.
Many more people are also using Lethbridge Transit’s westside terminal, located at the university. U of L officials have been helpful in accommodating that increase, Ponech says.
The UPass has become “a true partnership between Transit and the university,” he says.
In the future, Ponech says, transit officials would welcome a UPass partnership with Lethbridge College as well.
And meanwhile, students and other passengers are voicing appreciation for Sunday-level transit service on statutory holidays. For some Lethbridge residents, he notes, the bus is their only way to get to work or to community events.
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