Looking to boost flagging ridership levels of GRT route 21, Kiwanis Transit is proposing to launch a feeder service that will link riders to the line connecting the township to the transit hub in Waterloo.
A small bus will circle Elmira at peak times during the day, dropping off passengers at a Grand River Transit bus stop where they can board the main bus. A three-month pilot project was approved this week by Woolwich council.
The service, expected to run July 16 to October 13, is the brainchild of Kiwanis Transit manager Cheryl Fisher, who sees the venture as a good way to reduce demand on her overtaxed service. Kiwanis Transit provides rides to people with specialized needs. While some of its clients could use conventional transit, they often have no way of accessing the route 21 bus because it makes a very limited loop in Elmira before heading back to St. Jacobs and Conestoga Mall, she explained.
The local shuttle service would make a five-kilometre loop through Elmira time to coordinate with the GRT’s scheduled stop outside the township administrative office at Church and Maple streets.
Kiwanis Transit will cover the $27,000 operating costs of the pilot project, with the township expected to kick in for signs and advertising the service’s availability.
Asked by Mayor Sandy Shantz if the agency has a way to track the value of the connection to GRT, Fisher said they’ll monitor the numbers closely. If, for instance, just 930 riders shift to GRT, that will cover the $27,000 investment, she said. For comparison’s sake, Kiwanis Transit provided 47,000 rides last year.
“We have limited resources. We will never be able to meet the demand,” she said of the need to take pressure of the Kiwanis service.
Having consulted with social services agencies such Community Care Concepts and Woolwich Community Services, Fisher said the connecting bus service is seen as a boon for their clients. Community Care Concepts, for example, runs a service that provides volunteer drivers to take patients to medical appointments, so making the GRT bus more accessible could reduce demand.
“We encourage them to use conventional transit.”
Coming at little cost to the township, the pilot project was welcomed by council following Fisher’s presentation Tuesday night.
Coun. Patrick Merlihan, who’s been critical of the expensive and lightly used route 21, called the project “a made in Woolwich solution” for a problem Grand River Transit has yet to resolve.
The township has been looking into ways to extend the service as a way to boost ridership, but at little or no cost. A 2016 GRT proposal to boost the in-town loop by tacking on another $73,000 to the $500,000 a year already shelled out by Woolwich taxpayers was quickly nixed by council, for instance.
The falling percentage of costs recouped from users remains a major stumbling block. Low ridership numbers indicate the route has failed to catch on since it began as a pilot project in 2009. At the beginning, the goal was to recover 40 per cent of the costs from fares, but that number has now fallen to 20 per cent. The already low ridership levels have been dropping, which is generally the case across all GRT routes and with transit systems across the country.
Currently, the connecting service is proposed to run Monday to Friday, 7:45 to 11:20 a.m. and 2:30 to 5:15 p.m. On Saturdays, the hours would 8-11:10 a.m. and 2:15-4:45 a.m. There would be no service on Sundays or holidays, said Fisher, adding the hours are subject to tweaking depending on feedback.
She is currently working to get GRT on board with offering transfers from the shuttle bus, tickets for which will be priced uniformly with GRT and Kiwanis Transit rates.