Just over two months since its inception, BOLT is running better than planned, officials say.
Although it has not been long since the service began, Lacombe Community Economic Development Manager Guy Lapointe and Blackfalds Economic Development and Communications Officer Jennifer Hartigh said the service has generated some valuable feedback, especially during the first month of operation, which was free to users.
Lapointe said the service was well used in Lacombe during the free period, which was an important period for residents to see how the service worked.
“Red Deer really could not believe the volume of what we had on the busses, it was pretty impressive” he said. “The initial feedback was pretty positive.”
Hartigh said Blackfalds has also been receptive to the service.
“We had fabulous reception,” she said. “It’s one of the real positives in the community.”
During the first month of service, between 45 and 60 passengers made use of the service on average per day, said Hartigh.
Lapointe said, looking at BOLT usage in terms of revenue instead of passenger numbers, about $6,000 a month was expected between the three municipalities selling passes (Lacombe, Blackfalds and Red Deer). He added that, before the end of October, about $5,000 in passes had been sold.
“So the numbers are trending probably higher than what we anticipated,” he said.
Before the BOLT Initiative was launched on Aug. 25th, Lapointe stated administration realized that changes would need to be made to BOLT and kinks would need to be worked out in the coming months. He said no changes have really been made yet, but data is being compiled to see how the service might be improved in the future.
Some minor changes have been made to the service though, said Lapointe. A few stops, like the one on Woodland Drive, has been moved slightly to make them mo re accessible and easier to see.
Changes users have suggested include evening service and Sunday service. Also, earlier times for the first morning trips to Red Deer and changing a few of the stops has also been suggested.
In Blackfalds, a few changes have been made to stops near the family services building and civic centre areas. Hartigh said those areas are quite residential, so concessions for parking have been made near those stops and residents asked to have the benches changed to blend better into the residential setting.
Not all the growing pains that come with a new bus route are felt on the side of the municipalities running the service though. For example, Lapointe said it has been an adjustment for drivers to get used to Lacombe having bus zones.
Tickets are being handed out for drivers who park in bus zones. While some have commented it feels like bus zones are now occupying parking space. Lapointe said that is one of the things that happens when bus routes are adopted.
“That’s not going to change,” he said, adding that bus zones are managed 24/7 even though bus services only run during the day because the City foresees service being expanded to include evening and Sunday trips at some point in the future.
“We’re sticking to our guns on that one,” said Lapointe. “The bus zones are in place, we are committed to the service and we know it is going to grow at some point in the future.”
Hartigh said apart from the parking concessions made at one stop (in both directions) in a residential area with limited parking, there have not been many problems in Blackfalds. She added the Town will be monitoring that stop to see if any problems do arise.
As for when BOLT might seem some expansion in its services, Lapointe said there isn’t any kind of timeline in place yet. He said it is still ‘early in the game’ and data about the service is still being collected.
Lapointe also said any expansions to the service would have to be made in collaboration with all three municipalities involved and would have budget impacts. As such, he said Blackfalds and Lacombe are also looking for community partners that may be able to help the BOLT service expand.
Hartigh added, while there have been comments and several one-off requests to expand services, times and routes, there has not been a formal consultation process with the public yet. She said in the New Year the municipalities may look at having some kind of formal focus groups or forums where such ideas can be given more consideration.