BY KALISHA MENDONSA
BOLT Transit is showing to be a success in the City with an increase in ridership of 28% over the last year.
Community & Economic Development Manager Guy Lapointe said the City is pleased to be seeing the steady growth and that he believes the numbers will continue to move in a positive direction.
In 2015, the City implemented an automated fare service that has helped to track the ridership numbers, producing a year-over-year analysis. BOLT Transit is currently averaging 1,840 riders per month, approximately 22,080 riders per year.
“If we continue at our current growing pace of around 28 per cent each year, we could see another fairly significant increase in terms of ridership,” Lapointe said.
BOLT Transit is the result of several major partnerships between the City of Lacombe, the Town of Blackfalds and the City of Red Deer.
As well, the City of Lacombe has a relationship with Reid Signs, who takes care of all of the advertising needs for the City as well as maintenance at all bus stop shelters, aside from snow removal.
Lapointe explained the City receives a portion of the advertising revenues each year on behalf of Reid Signs.
In 2015, that return generated nearly $6,400 in revenue for the City. In 2016, that number was more than doubled to $13,545.
Lapointe explained this revenue goes against the cost recovery for running the transit service. He said along with increasing ridership, both of these factors indicate the success of the program.
“There are a lot of positive things that underscore the fact that this seems to be a viable bus service. There are obviously things we want to see and that our community wants to see,” Lapointe said.
“We’ve heard comments about an increase in frequency of service, and that they want to see the possible addition of evening routes to help accommodate people with evening jobs.”
Lapointe added that he feels the service is resonating with the community and that he is glad to see the attraction to riders. He said the more growth BOLT sees, the more opportunities arise for expansion of services.
He said at this time, there are no official plans to change the structure of service or frequency available, but more research is being conducted in these matters.
Through regular meetings with City council as well as public consultation, BOLT continues to receive valuable input that will help to shape the service as necessary.
“We are going to continue to conduct research and look at the numbers and look at ways to help grow the service. However, it seems the basic structure we have in place is working,” Lapointe added.
In order to grow the services, community consultation is necessary. This includes not only reaching out to those already using the service, but also those who are not yet using the service. Lapointe explained that by speaking with both groups, it helps to paint a more clear picture of how the service could be expanded.
“Our first step was talking to the riders and making sure that we had all of the services in place that we could to make BOLT work for them,” he said.
“Now, our next step is reaching out to the community who aren’t using the service and finding out why. We want reasons they aren’t riding and we want to know what we can do to make the service accessible to them.
“After that, we can put a report together for council based on those conversations and move forward from there.”
He said the managing bodies of BOLT do not want to guess at what issues the community is experiencing, but are encouraging the community to provide input instead.
The priorities of the community will be taken into consideration so that when and if the service grows, it is an appropriate growth for the client base and ridership stays steady.
Lapointe said he will continue to meet with council on a quarterly basis to examine the feasibility of the program.
He also said the service has seen compliments from riders who are commuting to Red Deer and Blackfalds, especially due to the wi-fi service that allows them to stay connected on their commute.
“For people taking that longer commute, the wi-fi increases the quality of the ride and helps them to access emails or whatever they need to make the best use of that commute time, or at least enjoy their experience that much more,” he said.
He added that thanks to public input about the accessibility of the stops, the City was notified of some potential sidewalk and trail extensions which help to improve the overall ease of access around the community.
Riders may pick up the reloadable transit fare cards from the Abbey Centre in Blackfalds, the Mary C. Moore Library and the Sorensen Station in Red Deer, as well as Red Deer City Hall.
Lapointe is also encouraging the community to speak out about their BOLT experience and provide feedback, by reaching him at email@example.com or by calling him at 403-782-1263.