Pilot project to expand NOTL bus routes

Suzanne Mason

Special to the Advance


Free bus rides will be offered for the first month for a new route in Niagara-on-the-Lake that will run from the villages of St. Davids and Queenston to the Glendale area.

A pilot project for the route has been approved by the town’s operations advisory committee for a four-month trial period from July to October. It would run parallel to the existing transit line from the Old Town through Virgil to Glendale.

“I’m excited this is moving ahead,” said Coun. Jamie King. “St. Davids and Queenston (residents) are truly looking forward to this.”

Currently, the town’s transit line runs hourly, six days a week for 11 hours a day. Staff reported that ridership has doubled since its launch in 2012 and requests for service in St. Davids and Queenston have grown steadily.

The town hired a consultant, Wally Beck of Transit Consulting Network, to provide advice about low-cost strategies for service to the two communities.

Changing the existing route to incorporate St. Davids was considered, but that option was rejected because of the longer travel times for passengers returning to Virgil from Glendale.

“The geographic layout of the town’s five hamlets makes it challenging to provide transit service within the accepted parameters of efficient operations,” staff reported. “Long stretches of rural roads between our urban areas skew conventional transit models.”

Due to their small populations, the two villages would not normally meet the standards for transit service, but the consultant noted there were a number of offsetting factors.

Beck said there are new developments in St. Davids with residents who can no longer drive and families who have no car or are sharing one; limited essential services in St. Davids and Queenston requiring the use of a car or taxis to access services elsewhere; and transit service will help attract new residents to St. Davids with an expected growth in demand for student ridership.

Beck considered two service options for the new route – a full-service equivalent to the existing route or a limited schedule of five hours per day. He noted that the lower service option would not effectively serve student or commuter passengers.

The pilot for the new route is expected to cost the town about $63,000. Staff estimates ridership at 500 trips with fares costing $3. The final route and location of the bus stops have not been finalized yet.

Coun. Terry Flynn said he was skeptical when the first transit line started in NOTL three years ago, but noted that it has continued to grow slowly.

“As long as we see growth, we can take a look at expanding the program,” he said. “Public transit is important down the road for all of us.”

The town will provide details about the new route through the media, on its website and to community groups in the two villages. Riders will be surveyed throughout the trial period to see if route or timing changes are needed and passenger demographics will be recorded.

A staff report will come to council in September on the results of the first three months of the trial period.

The committee’s recommendation for the pilot route goes to council next week for final approval.

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