Future of city transit may include smaller buses

For 10 years Red Deer City Coun. Frank Wong has been pushing for smaller city buses, citing big buses with only a few passengers and the inability of the larger vehicles to get into older neighbourhoods with smaller streets.

For 10 years Red Deer City Coun. Frank Wong has been pushing for smaller city buses, citing big buses with only a few passengers and the inability of the larger vehicles to get into older neighbourhoods with smaller streets.

In 2014, one of many new transit initiatives proposed by Red Deer Transit include a smaller buses project.

“A lot of people are unhappy when empty, full-sized buses go by,” said Wong. “So for years I said ‘why don’t we get smaller buses.’

“Like feeders that pick up a little and then get on to the main lines.”

During the Community Services budget presentation to city council on Wednesday, director Greg Scott highlighted several ideas that may become part of the future of transit in the city including smaller buses feeding into bigger buses on the main routes; improved fare boxes, updating the current antiquated system; improved technology, which could even include ways to communicate to passengers how long they have to wait for the next bus; and increased fares.

Scott said, in his discussions with George Penny, Red Deer Transit manager, the benefits to having smaller buses are significant and Penny is quite supportive of the pilot.

“We’re getting requests for pickup and delivery at some locations in our city where big buses can’t access,” said Scott. “What the small bus would do would allow us to provide public transportation into those areas like the Michener Seniors residence in the Michener area.”

Scott cited other benefits such as reducing the number of people using the Action Bus by getting the smaller buses into certain areas where big buses can’t go and help put big buses on more direct routes.

The small bus pilot is anticipated to be part of the transit master plan update coming up this fall.

Scott said they may come out with an operational model that could include having smaller buses on feeder routes into big buses on major routes.

“The big buses perform best on direct routes,” said Scott. “They don’t perform best winding their way through the neighbourhoods. If we had a small bus program that could wind into there and get people, to drop them off on a more direct route, that may be a good option to look at.”

Scott pointed to an old transit plan that suggested having a bus route solely on Gaetz Avenue as an idea for their transit master plan update.

He projected a report on the cost and scope of the pilot may come to council in the first or second quarter.

Improved fare boxes will be able to track how much people put in the fare box and also include options for swipe cards and other forms of payment. These boxes will allow the service to better keep track of how the service is being used. There is also a new software initiative, which over the next two years will allow people to be informed through electronic media of when their bus should arrive, as well as announced bus stops in the bus.

The budget also asks to increase service into the Timberlands area, where Scott said the community has grown significantly over the past couple of years. It would add an additional $135,389 to the transit budget.

Scott said they are asking for an increase in fares, with adult fares increasing to $2.45 from $2.40 and youths seeing an increase to $2.15 from $2.10.

“We did a comparison with other communities across the province and we saw our fares were some of the lowest,” said Scott.

In a cost-saving measure, Scott proposed eliminating the free firewood provided in various city parks. He said if the free wood comes with some challenges, one of which is damage to city facilities.

“We’ve had some significant damage over the years, I think we’ve replaced the McKenzie shelter twice,” said Scott. “I can recall four or five shelters we’ve replaced because they’ve been burnt to the ground.”

However, he admits it would be hard to prevent people from just going into the area surrounding the park and using what they can find for firewood.

“There would have to be some sort of communication, if in fact council supports the elimination of firewood, as to where people can go to get firewood,” said Scott. “It is something families enjoy in our park system.”

Some Funding Requests/Adjustments by Division

Community Services

RCMP Member fee agreement — $601,775

RCMP Police member and municipal employee resourcing — $359,000

RCMP provincial funding shortfall for three RCMP members — $120,750

Policing traffic and vehicle safety initative — $306,093

New neighbourhood and downtown parks and landscaping — $213,300

Office of the Mayor and City Manager

Second Ipsos/Reid survey – $14,000