The empty city buses seen driving at night along some Red Deer routes have fuelled a council discussion about changes to public transit.
Councillors Lawrence Lee and Vesna Higham suggested it’s time to consider putting smaller buses, instead of big city buses, on less popular routes in off-peak hours.
Noting that some Red Deer transit buses carry about half the Canadian average of 15 passengers an hour, Higham suggested substituting a dial-a-bus — or even a 15-seat van.
Calling buses-on-demand is possible now with a phone app, said Lee, who along with Higham and Coun. Tanya Handley had argued for some significant cost-savings measures for public transit.
But the majority of council did not support reducing bus frequency to one hour on stat holidays, Sundays, or after 6:45 p.m. on weekdays.
Higham said, “We are not talking about shutting down the public transit system,” just limiting the number of buses that are available at certain times.
But Coun. Dianne Wyntjes spoke about relying on a buses when she was younger, and the extra time it took from her daily obligations. Wyntjes didn’t want to make transit customers wait even longer for buses, fearing this might discourage use of public transit.
Coun. Ken Johnston noted single parents, people on disability pensions and other fixed incomes, and newcomers to Canada rely on local buses. “What do they do if they need to get to work by eight o’clock when the bus doesn’t come until 8:30?”
Many council members said they were willing to talk about dial-a-buses and other changes after they reviewed a city report, expected by May, that details bus usage on all the routes. Coun. Buck Buchanan said “We know transit is heavily subsidized,” but he feels council owes it to transit users to have all the information before making decisions.
The debate is expected to continue later this week.