October 20th, 2020

Future bus service could virtually be an app away

By Kalinowski, Tim on November 29, 2019.

Buses stop at the downtown transit terminal Thursday afternoon as city council voted earlier this week to explore a potential on-demand transit system. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald


Lethbridge moved one step closer to having on-demand transit after city council voted unanimously earlier this week to have staff explore what such a transit system would look like, and bring back a report on potential models to a future council meeting.

“On-demand transit is kind of a new thing,” explains City of Lethbridge Transit operations manager Scott Grieco. “In years past, they’ve had what they call ‘Dial-A-Ride,’ which was more of a taxi-based service. Now with the advent of new technology, what we have the ability to do is book bus rides online through an app or a phone. The reason this is really good for our community is if you are in a new area such as Legacy Ridge, for example, you don’t know what your ridership is going to be. You have an opportunity to analyze they ridership rather than putting a full-service route bus on the road, which is obviously very costly.”

The on-demand system would essentially eliminate regularly scheduled busing through certain areas of the city during off-peak hours in favour of a rider-request model.

“You would go on your phone on an app,” explains Grieco. “You would request a bus ride at a certain time. The system would take your application for a ride, and put you within the system. You would also pay for that ride when you book a ride. The algorithm we use would take everybody in the system’s opportunity for a ride, and put in what they call a virtual bus stop. You would go online and see where the bus is and what time it would get there.”

The bus would stop at a designated place at a designated time to pick up the rider who booked.

“This would allow our riders to get from point A to point B quicker, and allow us to get rid of some of less efficient routes,” says Grieco. “It would put more of a focus on where the resources are most needed.”

Grieco says it would also allow transit operations to re-route buses from all over the city to where they are most needed at any given time during those off-peak hours. He gives an example of how this might work in practice.

“Right now, we are experiencing some load issues on the westside,” Grieco explains. “With implementation of the U-Pass, our ridership has increased and many of the buses are full. That’s a good-news story with the implementation of the U-Pass, but now what would be really nice is we only have so many resources to put on the road. If we could shift some of our resources from less-used routes during off-peak hours and put additional resources on during peak hours, that would definitely be a benefit to any rider.”

Grieco says he and other City staff will be working over the next six to eight months to find an on-demand transit model which would work best for Lethbridge, and will present those findings to council for its ultimate decision.

“There is a couple of different models that some transit properties (in other cities) are going to,” says Grieco. “One of the models brings people from outlying areas into a centralized hub; such as the park ‘n ride and the north terminal, the college, or the university. This enhances the frequency of buses coming and provides more direct routes.”

“When we compete against single-occupancy vehicles, we want a fast, efficient and safe services,” he adds. “On demand gives us that opportunity to put on resources when the resources are required.”

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