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Ridership stagnant on Elmira bus route

Ridership has been leveling off for Grand River Transit’s route 21 – the Elmira bus – for the past year and a half, but regional planners predict an increase in the numbers later this year. They’re also optimistic about coming transit changes in northern Waterloo and St. Jacobs.

“Ridership seems to have stabilized somewhat on the route. We’re not seeing the same growth that we saw in the first couple of years but we’re still meeting our targets,” said Grand River Transit planner Erica Springate.

In 2013 the number of daily average riders decreased slightly to 330 (January-June) from an average of 350 in 2012. Springate expects this year’s ridership to increase slightly in late summer and fall, the route’s busiest seasons.

Now in its fifth year, route 21 was started as a 2009 pilot project. In June 2011 public support made it a permanent fixture from Conestoga Mall to St. Jacobs and Elmira. The costs, borne by the region during the pilot phase, were passed on to all Woolwich taxpayers. The current hit is approximately $450,000 a year.

That year a minimum of 25 boardings per service hour was documented, showing a rise from the two previous years, when the bus route was still a pilot project. In 2010, daily ridership was 309, up from 245 in 2009.

The initial estimate by staff in 2009 was that about 510 passengers a day would use the route by 2014. Today that expectation has changed given current numbers.

“Given that the route ridership has remained consistent I’m not sure if we will reach that goal by 2014, she said, adding that coming improvements to regional routes may increase ridership in the future.

Come fall, two new express routes will link with route 21 at the Conestoga Mall terminal in Waterloo.

“I expect in 2017 when we have the LRT operating at Conestoga Mall ridership will again increase on route 21. I think we’ll hit that mark eventually – it might just take a bit longer than the original five years that we had predicted,” said Springate.

Blair Allen, superintendent of transit development, said future construction development in the St. Jacobs core will see changes being made to the route.

“We’re working with the design and construction staff to update and adjust some of the stops.”

Recent changes to the route, a response to public requests, include adjusting the space between stops and better access to the Woolwich Community Health Centre from its bus stop.

“We have now put it into our program to improve some of the bus stops and add concrete landing pads; improved infrastructure along the routes.”

This year, GRT added several new stops in St. Jacobs and may open a new stop near the St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market in order to increase service to the Conestoga Mall plaza.

“We have some medical offices going in there so we are looking at trying to improve that,” said Springate.

Shelters will also be built for stops near the market. As scheduled road reconstruction starts in the near future, bus stop upgrades like landing pads will be made to accommodate riders, though Springate said a lack of space is the main challenge in St. Jacobs and Elmira when it comes to upgrades like shelters.

Costs for the changes are minor and routine, she added, and will not affect annual costs for running the route.

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