Major revamp planned for Red Deer transit system

Sorensen Station could no longer be the gathering point for buses

Red Deer’s inconsistently used public transit system is about to get a major overhaul to boost usage and efficiencies.

With a $200,000 shortfall in transit revenues to cover, city council welcomed a pending change that re-envisions all bus routes.

“It’s always one of the biggest election issues: Why are we running big, empty buses?” Coun. Vesna Higham observed after a day of budget deliberations this week.

Councillors support a review that’s almost completed and will determine how busy each of the routes are at various times of the day, including weekends and evenings.

Consultants are gathering data collected from electronic bus cards to help redesign the Red Deer transit system.

“We’re hoping to get big efficiencies,” added Higham.

The proposed backbone of the revised system is having buses regularly running up and down Gaetz Avenue, instead of converging at the Sorensen Station in downtown Red Deer, as they do now, said city manager Craig Curtis.

With Red Deer growing to the north and east, Curtis said the “hub and spoke” system is no longer the quickest or best way to get around.

Consultants believe it makes more sense to take buses from outlying areas to Gaetz Avenue and then make transfers to the north or south.

Red Deer residents will have a say about proposed new routes at public open houses this summer, Curtis added.

In the meantime, Red Deer city council approved this week covering a $200,000 shortfall in transit revenues. This has been caused, in part, by lower bus usage during the prolonged recession.

“We are absolutely cognizant,” said Coun. Lawrence Lee, “that transit needs to be reviewed for efficiency.”

He spoke out during last year’s budget talks, and again this year, about the need to rethink how transit services are delivered to prevent largely empty buses from running after 8 p.m.

The city used to have dial-a-buses, available in non-peak hours, but has moved away from offering this kind of service. Lee believes innovative thinking will be needed to come up with solutions to the problem of little-used transit routes.

On Wednesday, he brought up the issue of Action Buses for the disabled often being used to take people to Red Deer hospital for dialysis treatment.

If these buses are regularly used as transportation to health-care treatments, he suggested Alberta Health should be helping subsidize their cost.

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