It was an early goodbye to BOLT Regional Transit service on Friday and a Monday morning hello to BOLT, Blackfalds On-demand Local Transit Service.
The City of Lacombe suspended operations for BOLT Regional Transit service Aug. 28. Initially, the service was slotted to be cancelled on Sept. 30, but the Town of Blackfalds requested the date be moved so they could roll out the Blackfalds On-demand Local Transit Service (BOLT).
Preston Weran, director of infrastructure and property services for the Town of Blackfalds, said the new BOLT is an on-demand service that will run between Blackfalds and the north end of Red Deer.
“The service is similar to dial-a-bus, where you call a number and get a ride, but the unique part about it is the fact that you can download the Pick-Up On-Demand App,” he said. “It gets you that Uber-type service through the local transit.”
This means commuters will need to book their rides in advance by calling or using the Pick-Up On-Demand App. People can book the bus for immediate service or for service up to two-weeks in advance.
“We’ve got slots allocated for the morning and then the later afternoon during the busy times and then, further then that, there’s a couple of hours throughout the day that it’ll go in and out of Blackfalds – if the demand is there,” said Weran.
Tickets for the service can be bought directly through the App or in-person at the Town Office or the Abbey Centre. The Town is offering free service for the month of September. After that, tickets will be $2.50 one way.
The new transit service is a two-year pilot project. Weran says the reason they chose to call it BOLT was to “utilize the previous name from the old regional system.”
“We just wanted to have something that’s recognizable and consistent with our old service,” he said.
The net annual operating cost of the service for the Town of Blackfalds will be $211,937. However, that amount will be adjusted in next year’s budget for the new on-demand service.
The BOLT Regional Transit system was voted out of service last fall by the city of Lacombe. Council voted the service out because they felt that residents weren’t seeing a return on the $200,000 per year investment.
“The decision to cancel the Bolt Regional Transit service was a difficult one, but one we felt was necessary as the substantial investment required by the service did not result in sustainable ridership levels,” said Mayor Grant Creasy in a press release. “In these times of fiscal restraint, Council needs to take a lead role in financial stewardship.”
Todd Wyatt, a resident of Lacombe, doesn’t agree with the cancellation and thinks bumping up the cancellation date was a poor move by the City of Lacombe Council.
“When you dangle the carrot and you offer it to members of the community and then you say ‘well it’s not working out’ after a very short period of time and then you take it back, now you’ve got people that have jobs and that have connections and that rely on that transportation, now they’re left hanging,” Wyatt said.
BOLT Regional Transit launched in August, 2014 as a way of connecting Red Deer, Blackfalds and Lacombe.
Wyatt says he thinks it takes time to change transportation usage in a community and five years wasn’t enough time to see that usage change. He didn’t use the service, due to what he calls his “own habits of transportation,” but he did consider it and would have considered it this year if he was working in Red Deer and the service was still running.
“The most stress in my day is that half-hour commute in the morning and afternoon on the highway. And the volume of traffic over the last 20 years, I would say has gone up exponentially,” he said.
The City of Lacombe does not have a replacement for BOLT Regional Transit, but the City said Lacombe FCSS will continue to operate the Lacombe Connex service, which is “available to seniors and others unable to access regular transportation because of age, illness or ability.”
Back in Blackfalds, Weran is hopeful the pilot project will be expanded to full service in three years and is excited about the on-demand aspect of the system.
“The two biggest things we’re looking for in a transit service is efficiency and frequency. This on-demand service allows us to only need to use our drivers when people want a ride, so we can focus our transit on those hours,” Wehran said. “It allows a quicker trip to Red Deer because the City of Lacombe service is no longer apart of the route and then we’re not having to go all the way downtown. That also adds efficiencies for our riders.”