A complete revamp of Red Deer’s inconsistently used transit system is underway to boost efficiency and usage.
Red Deerians can have input on proposed changes — such as not making Sorenson Station the only gathering point for buses — through an online survey on the city’s website.
The survey is part of the Transit Network Improvement Project, which has been underway to find improvements that would make the city’s transit system more cost-efficient and attractive to more riders.
In January, council had to cover a $200,000 shortfall for transit operations out of the 2019 operating budget. It left some councillors asking, “Why are we running big, empty buses?”
Some of the city’s 63 large transit vehicles could be replaced by smaller buses on slower routes, or when ridership falls in the evenings, suggested transit manager George Penny.
Penny noted everything is on the table for this review — including bus routes.
While a growing number of Red Deerians stated in the 2019 Citizen Satisfaction Survey that they would prefer service cuts to paying more taxes, Penny said “we have to balance that…
“There are people who don’t have any other form of transportation, and they do need to take the bus, and they pay taxes too…”
The existing transit system works like spokes on a bike wheel, with buses collecting passengers in various neighbourhoods and bringing them to Sorenson Station at the city’s centre, where they can transfer to other buses.
This makes it time consuming to get from Timberlands to Ironstone, for example, or from West Park to Vanier Woods, since passengers have to make a big detour to the downtown, admitted Penny.
One proposal being considered is for circuitous bus routes to operate in the north and south parts of the city. Passengers would be brought to Gaetz Avenue, where they could transfer to buses travelling north and south along this main route.
Red Deer is expanding with new neighbourhoods, so the new plan has to make sense for people who need to get around the city quickly, said Penny.
He suggested new connection points could be at Parkland and Bower Place malls — although nothing is yet decided.
Ridership patterns have been studied during different times of day, including evenings and weekends. Consultants have gathered data from electronic bus cards to help redesign the transit system.
Penny said about 2.5 million bus trips are taken a year (a ride that involves a transfer is counted as two separate trips).
As the plan is further developed, he added, other citizen engagement opportunities will be held.
The survey is open until Aug. 6 at reddeer.ca/surveys. City staff will also be conducting surveys on transit buses.
Penny said Red Deer’s 25 Action Buses for disabled people are not part of the transit system overhaul.