A small shuttle service that will move people around Elmira and connect with the Grand River Transit bus will be launched in September for a six-month trial period.
The pilot project proposed by Kiwanis Transit has been approved by both the township and the Region of Waterloo.
Meeting this week, Woolwich councillors approved spending some $13,000 to support the trial, $9,000 to pay for the service and another $4,000 for signage and promotion. The bulk of the $54,000 operating cost will be paid for by Kiwanis Transit.
The project is set to run from September 4 to Mar. 1, 2019.
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While the region won’t provide any funding, if the pilot proves successful, it will look at extending the service through the rest of 2019, including the project in next year’s budget talks.
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 and link to the transit hub in Waterloo.
Kiwanis Transit sees the shuttle as a way to decrease demand on its door-to-door specialty transportation, not only linking to GRT route 21 but allowing people in Elmira to access local stops such as shopping or appointments, the agency’s general manager, Cheryl Fisher, told councillors Tuesday night.
If just 1,500 of the agency’s 50,000 annual rides can be diverted to public transit, it would recoup the $45,000 investment, she noted.
“For us, there is definitely a financial benefit to shift riders to public transit.”
The service, to be operated without fares for the six-month trial, would be open to all residents looking to make use of a bus looping around Elmira.
“I think it’s going to prove one thing or another thing. It’s either going to prove that people are interested in using transit and getting on to route 21 and moving on into the city, or we’re going to find out it is a car community and bussing doesn’t work,” said Coun. Larry Shantz.
The prospect of the pilot project being extended or the route being made permanent met with some concerns, however.
Coun. Patrick Merlihan, though supportive of Kiwanis Transit’s efforts, said he worried about costs escalating if Grand River Transit took over the route eventually. Moreover, he added, there’s the matter of which tax base would be funding the service.
Though GRT route 21 runs through St. Jacobs and Elmira, everyone in the township pays taxes totalling some $500,000, with fares covering less than a quarter of the costs.
Mayor Sandy Shantz, who represents the township on regional council, suggested the service would be paid for by a special levy on properties in Elmira.
Though no fares would apply in the initial run, the goal would be to have the shuttle integrated into the GRT fare system. How many of the early riders would continue to use the service when fares are introduced remains to be seen.
Coun. Murray Martin said there should be a charge from the get-go.
“There’s nothing free out there – let’s not kid ourselves.”
Councillors did seem to be on the same page of a “use it or lose it” philosophy that significant ridership would determine the fate of the pilot project.
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.