If the past several months have been a test for the viability of a regularly scheduled bus route in Elmira, then the results are in and they’re looking good. Elmira residents like their bus service. That’s according to Cheryl Fisher, general manager of Kiwanis Transit, which recently concluded its six-month pilot period for the ‘Elmira Bus.’
“It’s doing tremendously well. In fact, I was just looking back at our April numbers. March we did almost 1,500 riders,” said Fisher, adding they expected to surpass 1,500 in April by the end of the month.
“So it has exceeded our expectations for riders for absolute sure,” she said. “1,500 riders is definitely very, very good. It is well worth what the cost of this service is to operate.”
While the bus is no longer in its pilot phase, the service will continue to operate until the end of the year with little change – including keeping its rides free for all users.
The Elmira Bus was rolled out in September as a free service for riders while Kiwanis Transit, the Township of Woolwich and the Region of Waterloo gauged the success of the pilot. Though the bus was expected to institute a fare for riders after the pilot finished, that now won’t be the decided until 2020.
“[The Region of Waterloo] approved the continued operation of the service from March 1 on to the end of the year. And they allowed us to operate it, to continue to operate it, the same as we have been,” said Fisher. “But what will happen is that we will have to go into discussions … with the region, because it is a service now that is operated by the region.”
To be determined is whether Kiwanis Transit will continue to operate the bus route next year, now that it has shown to be successful, or whether the region would opt to hire a private bus operator instead. As the region has officially adopted the bus route as part of its busPLUS service, it will be up to the region to determine how the service is run.
“What we’d like … to request [is] an opportunity or proposal for us to be able to carry on providing this service,” said Fisher. “Whether we carry on with it being free, that would be something that would be decided upon.”
Kiwanis Transit is an atypical bus service. A not-for-profit in the region’s townships, it commands a fleet of 10 vehicles, offering approximately 50,000 rides a year. The organization primarily offers door-to-door transit services for seniors and those with physical and mental disabilities.
However, the door-to-door service is also much more costly to operate than a typical bus route, while users of the service typically need to book a ride days in advance.
Seeing a need for regular bus service in Elmira, the organization introduced the Elmira Bus. It is the organization’s first regularly scheduled bus route service – one that it hopes to keep running next year.
The service was envisioned as a way to take pressure off the organization’s longstanding door-to-door service, by providing residents in Elmira with another option for transit both in town and as a connection to Grand River Transit’s route 21 to Waterloo.
However, unlike the door-to-door service, the Elmira Bus is open to all users. Just 35 per cent of those constituted seniors and students, while another 10 per cent were children four-and-under (who typically ride for free on GRT buses).
But the largest demographic riders on the Elmira Bus, at 55 per cent, were adults, suggesting a wider demand for the bus service amongst residents across the board.
“I knew we were going to tap a certain demographic of seniors and students,” said Fisher. “But our highest grouping is 55 per cent of the riders is adult. So these are people between the age of 18 and 65. These are people getting to work, these are people going grocery shopping, these are people running errands. These are people with busy lives.”
In the past few months, approximately 100 riders a month used the Elmira Bus to connect with route 21.
“It’s important because [the Elmira Bus is] allowing people to come from a little bit bigger distance to be able to do that,” said Fisher. “So, yes, we’re seeing a number in and around that range per month that are actually using this service as a complement the GRT, for sure.”
The Elmira Bus will continue operating a while longer as is until the region makes its decision next year. The service runs six days a week and travels in a circuit around the outer edge of town, with major stops at Maple and Church streets, and the Foodland plaza.