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Ridership stagnant, but no plans to change GRT route 21 in Woolwich

While far from the target projected by Waterloo Region staff, ridership on the GRT Route 21 bus from Conestoga Mall to Elmira has climbed back to 2012 levels.

While the region contemplates chopping underperforming services to apply funds to higher-volume routes in the run-up to the launch of its light rail transit scheme, the lightly-used Woolwich route isn’t on the list.

From January to September, average daily ridership has reached 350, roughly on par with last year’s numbers. The figure represents an improvement from January-June, which saw daily ridership decline slightly to 330.

“On this route, usually the summer months and the fall months are busier, and that’s another turn we’ve seen this year that’s raised the number up from 330 riders to 350,” said Grand River Transit planner Erica Springate.

“Generally across our system, ridership drops in the summer, and that’s because people are on vacation, or you walk or ride your bike more. Route 21 actually goes against that trend to some extent. I don’t know what drives it – whether it’s tourism in St. Jacobs and Elmira, more people going to the market, I’m not sure.”

One reason for the increase may be the implementation of two new linking routes at the Conestoga Mall hub in September: the 202 iXpress that travels University Avenue, and the 201 iXpress from Fischer-Hallman. GRT has also added new stops in St. Jacobs at the request of residents. September brought 31 boardings per hour to the Elmira/St. Jacobs bus, up from 25 in June.

“Whether it’s related to [the new links] or not, we haven’t done a customer survey to determine, but we did see high ridership in September,” said Springate.

Daily ridership has risen from an average of 245 in 2009 (the route’s first year) and 309 in 2010. While showing improvement, these numbers still lag behind the 510 daily riders originally projected for 2014. At the moment, GRT has no future ridership projections.

“Right now we’re happy with ridership on the route,” said Springate. “It is meeting our targets and surpassing our targets, so if its ridership stays where it is now, we’ll be happy; if it does grow, we’ll be even happier.”

The bus route currently costs Woolwich residents $450,000 annually.

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