How often do we see a government service offered that provides better service to more people and saves money at the same time? No need to answer—but the town of Fort Erie has done exactly that with their transit service. The community switched from three fixed bus routes to a fleet of nine mini vans, two of them wheelchair accessible, and now offer service on demand.
Customers can download an app, visit a site online or even use the old-fashioned phone to book rides. With the old fixed bus routes, service was hourly. Now with the vans, riders are guaranteed a 30-minute pick-up, but usually the wait time is only 10 minutes. The service guarantees riders will reach their destination in less than 45 minutes, but actual average ride time reported so far is 14 minutes.
Not surprisingly ridership is way up. It has increased by 40 percent over pre-pandemic levels. The old fixed route system only served the built-up areas of the town—the new service covers rural areas as well. The fixed route bus stops are still in use, but rides still need to be booked. Riders can also be picked up at dozens of designated locations in high traffic areas and intersections within the town. Rural residents will be picked up at their door. Greenhouse gas emissions have been more than cut in half. Rather than pocket the savings, Fort Erie Council has decided to maintain the annual transit budget of $1.4 Million in order to grow the service to the town of 30,000.
Jennifer Pennell-Agie of the Town of Fort Erie, manages the system for the town which is contracted to a third-party supplier. She recently made a presentation of the system to a conference of CUTRIC, the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium, an organization promoting zero emission transit solutions. The region of Niagara will soon take over transit in the area, but that change will not impact the service in Ft. Erie. Jennifer told the Bay Observer her experience with on-demand transit shows a shift in mindset in the industry.
Hamilton is experimenting with a version of transit-on-demand for Waterdown. On demand rides are available within and around the village, and the service will also connect to a fixed bus route that goes directly to the Aldershot GO station every 30 minutes.