Extending transit bus service to Gasoline Alley and Springbrook is such a success Red Deer County is looking at improving the journey.
“Our ridership has grown to the point where we’re looking at an enhanced service,” said county chief administrative officer Curtis Herzberg.
Since the buses began running in 2010, the number of riders has climbed from about 42,500 to as high as 78,000 in 2014.
Numbers dipped slightly last year to just under 74,000 but growth has been averaging 12 to 14 per cent a year, said Jo-Ann Symington, county community services manager.
Being considered is a separate bus dedicated to the Springbrook route to improve service and shorten travelling time.
“It’s a very long bus trip. We’re looking at breaking that up,” Herzberg said.
The longest bus journeys are about 45 minutes on the existing Springbrook loop, which runs through Gasoline Alley.
Improving the transit experience for Springbrook riders is also seen as an opportunity to support Red Deer Airport’s economic ambitions.
The county is still working out the logistics and expects to apply for funding under the province’s GreenTRIP (Green Transit Initiatives Program). A third round of funding worth $415 million was announced recently with a June 30 application deadline.
If the transit expansion gets the green light from council, the new routes will likely not be in place until the second half of 2017, said Symington.
One of the variables the county has been waiting on was whether Penhold wanted to go ahead with a proposal to extend service to that community.
Penhold council took a look at the costs last month and voted not to go ahead now.
Penhold Mayor Dennis Cooper said covering the cost of the service would add about four per cent to local tax bills.
“We couldn’t justify it at this present time,” he said. “We feel as the town grows and the need develops we’ll definitely (take another look) at this. We’re not closing the door on this.
“The county gave us a very good price on that but it was beyond our ability to bring busing to Penhold at this present time.”
Ridership levels were also a question mark. More than 90 per cent of Penhold’s residences are owned meaning only a small number rent and may be more likely to use transit.
Penhold’s population is at about 3,000 and by the time it approaches 4,000 it will likely make sense to crunch the numbers again, said the mayor.
“As people look at the community having a bus link to Red Deer would definitely be an advantage for people making a choice whether to come and live in Penhold.”