With the loosening of some COVID-19 restrictions, Red Deer transit buses will return to running at a regular frequency on Wednesday.
Buses will start running on a half-hour schedule again, instead of an hour apart, as they had been since more stringent COVID-19 restrictions were announced by the province in early December.
Trever Sparrow, superintendent of conventional services for Red Deer Transit, said he’s glad to get buses back to running more often now that some of the pandemic restrictions have eased.
He compares it to a chicken and egg scenario: While there was a need to pull some buses off routes when more people were working from home over the Christmas holidays, keeping local transit service timely and efficient is needed to retain riders and preserve its viability, said Sparrow.
Ridership with Red Deer Transit had dropped 70 to 80 per cent at the beginning of the pandemic.
After doing more recent number-crunching, Sparrow is finding ridership is still far from normal, but “there has been a slight, upward trend.”
A full recovery likely won’t happen until the pandemic is over and the local economy begins to recover, said Sparrow, who added part of the decline is due to some local businesses closing.
Red Deer students are continuing to ride the bus to middle and high schools, however.
And route changes implemented last fall are resulting in some positive feedback from transit users. Sparrow heard people are pleased that buses are now running up and down Gaetz Avenue on Route 1, providing quick and easy access between north and south Red Deer.
The diagonal new Routes 2 and 4 are also “extremely popular,” he said, providing transportation from the Kentwood station in the city’s northwest, along 67th Street and 30th Avenue to the Collicutt Centre in the southeast, and then looping to the Bower Place Mall.
“Customers are getting used to the new system and they are liking it,” added Sparrow. The route changes have led to more shelters and bus stop improvements.
The transit system continues to operate with 63 full-sized buses and 23 Action buses, for people with disabilities.
During recent city budget talks there was discussion about purchasing some shorter buses to run during less busy periods. City Coun. Lawrence Lee also brought up the idea of starting up a dial-a-bus service rather than running large, empty buses at night when there’s low ridership.
Various network improvements are being discussed, said Sparrow. But all plans and timelines are having to be reviewed in light of the pandemic.