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Elmira bus proving a popular option during test run

Kiwanis Transit’s Cheryl Fisher spearheaded the idea. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]

Halfway through its six-month trial run, the “Elmira Bus” is exceeding the expectations of the Kiwanis Transit organizer who jumpstarted the venture.

The service provides both in-town transit and a connection to the GRT route that connects Elmira to Waterloo. It was launched in September as an official pilot project funded by Kiwanis Transit, which is picking up the bulk of the costs with a $45,000 contribution, and the Township of Woolwich, which is contributing $9,000 and an additional $4,000 for signage and promotion.

The bus is the brainchild of Kiwanis Transit Cheryl Fisher, who sees it as a way to move people to conventional transit instead of her organization’s more costly specialized transportation. The trial run will help determine if a more permanent link would be worthwhile.

“It’s definitely exceeded my expectations, for sure,” said Fisher of the community response thus far. “We’re costly specialized pleased, the demographics of riders is very diverse – we’re getting young people, we’re getting old people, we’re getting people going to work, shopping, social events, GRT connections. Our rides have more permanent increased every month since its inception.”

From September 2 through November 30, there have been 3,012 rides. November saw 1, 218 bus trips alone. The route circles around Elmira, with 24 stops along the way.

The arrival times are linked up precisely with the timing for Grand River Transit’s route 21 at the township office on Church Street. Using the bus to make the GRTconnection is one of the primary uses for passengers who can quickly go from home to the community bus and then on to other areas in the region.

Part of the rationale for the experiment was feedback about the lack of accessibility to the GRT bus given its limited number of stops in Elmira. Instead of having the large bus do a larger loop, which would require more buses to maintain an hourly schedule, the small local bus does the around-town trip.

“We also have a lot of people in the community that connects with the GRT route 21, so they can get on the bus from two-and-a-half kilometres away from the other side of town,” said Fisher. “And they can hop on that GRT bus and make that connection. So it’s an extension of the conventional service in the community.”

The GRT Route 21 can then take passengers to further destinations, including into St. Jacobs, the farmers’ market and the hub at Conestoga Mall in Waterloo.

“The holidays will be a busy time for the bus, as currently any school holidays have seen very high numbers of travel,” said Fisher. “Our drivers love meeting new people, and they’re meeting new people all the time. So they’re getting new riders every month and lots of new faces. And the feedback has been amazing.”

The future of this service is ambiguous, however, partly depending on how the rest of the project goes. The final decision will be made after the end of the pilot project in March, after all the statistics are collected and analyzed.

“Ilove the fact that we’ve often used that expression  ‘use it or lose it’, which is kind of a harsh way of saying things but it’s very true,” said Fisher. “Definitely, people have been using this service. It’s free during this timeframe.

“I don’t know what is going to change or how things are going to be after the pilot project based on the decisions of the regional council, GRT and theTownship of Woolwich.”

While the service is currently free – there’s no way to coordinate transfers to the GRT system at this point – if the pilot is extended or adopted as part of I love the larger transit system, it will likely be subject to standard rates: $3.25 for a one-way trip and $86 for an adult monthly pass. More details are available online.

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