Grand River Transit buses will roll in Woolwich at no cost to township taxpayers for the rest of the year, as Waterloo Region has opted to continue the pilot project.
This week’s decision forestalls the need for township residents to take on costs of some $457,000 a year to continue GRT route 21, which links Elmira and St. Jacobs with Conestoga Mall in Waterloo.
In extending the pilot program, the regions hopes more riders will climb on board, prompting the township to support making the route permanent. First introduced in April 2009, the service now attracts some 300 riders a day, closing in on the target of 25 riders per hour of service. The goal is to have 510 passengers a day by 2014.
“We’re very close to meeting our minimum for maintaining a bus route,” said regional Chair Ken Seiling following a planning and works committee meeting where members of regional council opted to keep the buses rolling until the end of the year.
Seiling said he hopes the service becomes permanent, noting some people in the township have already become dependent on the bus.
The extension gives Woolwich council more time to make a decision on whether or not to support the route, which, if made permanent, would be paid for by a levy imposed on property owners.
Councillors fear the route will be a hard sell given the dollars involved and the fact that only St. Jacobs and Elmira residents stand to benefit. For Mayor Todd Cowan, transit discussions should include the potential for a route in Breslau.
Given the growing population, future development of employment lands and a new bridge proposed to cross the Grand River near the village, a bus route makes sense, he said in an interview, adding it would serve as a link to the Region of Waterloo International Airport.
“It seems funny that we can’t just jump on transit and go to the airport.”
Seiling noted that service to the south end of the township is one of the transit options being investigated. In the meantime, the focus is on boosting ridership on route 21. The goal is to serve more commuters, as well as students and members of the Mennonite community. The bus is also an outlet for those people concerned about the environment, he said.
In a brief discussion at Tuesday night’s Woolwich council meeting, Coun. Mark Bauman said the extension of the trial period allows the township to look closely at the benefits. He proposed a public input process and thorough debate before the township makes any official comments to Waterloo Region about the bus service.
Down the road, the region will use what happens in Woolwich in evaluating an expansion into other townships. Other communities, including New Hamburg, have requested bus service, said Seiling.
“Wellesley’s been asking us for years to come into the township.”