Red Deer Transit has come a long way since the days of offering a dial-a-bus service.
When the city took over transit service from private operators on Sept.1, 1966, there were nine buses on the road.
Today there are 60 low floor buses, 23-passenger community shuttles and 24 Action Bus vehicles in the fleet.
Buses fill up at the city’s diesel fuelling station and soon 16 Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses will be filling up at the city’s new CNG fuelling station at Civic Yards.
At a special ceremony at Sorensen Station on Wednesday, the city celebrated 50 years of providing public transportation.
Transit manager George Penny said as the population grows so does the demand for public transportation. Last year there were 3.8 million trips and in 2014, there were four million trips in Red Deer. On average the buses make 10,000 trips every day.
Penny said the bus service continues to be robust despite a slight dip in 2015, which he attributes to the low economy.
Red Deer’s transit system will continue to be meet the needs of residents with its system-wide intelligence transit, which enables GPS, said Penny.
Bus riders will be able to see when the next bus is coming in real time. The whole system is expected to be completed by the end of June 2017. The city is currently in the project’s procurement stage.
But that is not the only change on the road.
A couple of years ago, the city decided to place its bets on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). By next September, the city will have 16 CNG buses in the fleet and a fuelling station at Civic Yards. Work on the new station will start in August and the first five buses should arrive by November.
The city will have 19 CNG buses and by 2019, 40 CNG buses in the fleet.
Investing in CNG in the ever-changing world of technology has been criticized, notably by Coun. Paul Harris who said it is not the way to go. Harris has said that the city ought to explore other technologies.
But Penny is convinced that CNG is the way to go and it leaves the option open for trying other technologies.
“Electric still has a long way to go but CNG is moving across the country,” he said. “A lot of transit agencies have them. It is cleaner burning, less emissions, quieter and I think that is what people want.”
However the city is keeping a close eye on St. Albert, which is piloting a few electric buses in its fleet.
Different manufacturers have different charging methods for each type of electric bus, said Penny.
“If we went with one style bus we would have to put in a certain charging system and you wouldn’t be able to try another vehicle,” said Penny. “With CNG, that option is open. Across the country, places like Vancouver and Toronto are all moving to CNG … They are trying other options and I think we should look at other options. But I think CNG is a viable option for us.”
The city used in part GreenTrip funding and the Federal GAs Tax funding for the $6.1 million-project.
Mayor Tara Veer said the city recognizes that a key part of a healthy, active lifestyle for all citizens is having access to multi-modal transportation options to connect with the people and places in and around Red Deer.
Veer said it was a honour to recognize the transit staff both past and present during the ceremony.