By Yoos, Cam on September 9, 2020.
City council voted unanimously during Tuesday’s council meeting to explore two projects with the hope that they will lead to more efficient and cost effective transit in the city going forward.
The first pilot project will be related to Transit On Demand. Council voted to begin a six-month trial program at a cost of $82,000. City staff were directed to seek out appropriate software to run such a program, and obtain the material necessary for its operation.
The new Transit On Demand program, if it works as anticipated, will allow users of the main routes to request pick up through an app in off-peak hours and will work as a feeder conduit into the City’s new CityLink corridors, which should offer a more streamlined and efficient transit service throughout Lethbridge, said Transit Operations manager Scott Grieco.
“I think the Transit On Demand pilot project is very exciting for the City of Lethbridge,” he said. “The reason it is exciting is it is going to provide enhanced travel opportunities for our riders. We can analyze our low demand, low ridership areas, and reallocate those resources and still provide better service, and we can come up with some cost-effectiveness as well on top of that.”
Grieco said On Demand Transit was something the KPMG report recommended the City explore to create greater cost efficiencies, and he thanked council for having the vision to see the value for transit riders in it.
“It is a step in the right direction in terms of moving forward with the CityLink,” he said. “What CityLink is going to do for the community is it is going to provide straighter, more direct routes. And that is going to be good for the majority of our patrons. So now they will have the opportunity to utilize Transit On Demand in those times after 7 p.m. when we see a reduction in our ridership, and they will be able to connect onto the CityLink, and from there be able to utilize our conventional transit system.”
On top of a Transit On Demand pilot project, city council also opted to go ahead and bring in eligibility criteria for current and future users of Access-A-Ride. As per staff recommendations, the City will contract an occupational therapist or team of therapists to examine all current users of Access-A-Ride to ensure they truly need the service or could be utilizing conventional transit in the city instead. All city buses are accessible with wheelchair spaces, have “leaning” capability and come equipped with extendable ramps for easier passenger loading. They also have an active audio system which announces the stops for those with visual impairments.
Once that is done the occupational therapists will work with current users to transition them to conventional transit, and assess all new clients to ensure they are eligible.
Access-A-Ride is more highly used in Lethbridge than similar services in other communities our size. Access-A-Ride serves about 1,100-1,200 clients per year, and regularly clocks an average of about 120,000 trips per year at a cost of about $3.8 million (2019 numbers).
The initial cost to contract an occupational therapist to do all rider assessments would be between an estimated $130,000 to $230,000, and this price would be consistent year to year afterward, but, says City Transit Systems supervisors Michelle Loxton, the expense will help reduce over usage of Access-A-Ride and provide savings that way.
“What is happening now is this is giving us the opportunity to ensure people are in the right seat,” she said. “So those who have the greater need will certainly be able to have their needs met. And those ineligible will certainly now be able to ride conventional transit, our fixed routing system, which is 100 per cent accessible. This (council decision) is going to ensure everyone in the community has their needs met.”
Once the contract for the occupational therapist is tendered, city council will review the program after its first six months to assess its effectiveness.
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