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City Seeking Cost Estimates for Five Potential Transit Service Options

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Owen Sound will ask for prices for five potential transit service options – from maintaining the status quo to moving to a fully on-demand system – when it seeks proposals this winter for a new operator contract.

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Com. Travis Dodd said the motion, approved at a special council meeting on Friday, is a first step towards the city’s decision on what type of transit service it will provide when the contract begins on September 1.

“It’s just getting enough information to make the decision. I think that will be the part that gives everyone the direction of how they are going to move forward with this current service. But I remind you that this is only the tendering process, ”he said.

The Council approved by 6 votes to 3 Dodd’s motion asking for prices to maintain the current level of transit service, which provides 13,500 hours of service per year, as well as to provide one hour service during current operating hours, which would reduce those operating hours to 7,500.

The motion also calls for quotes for the transition to a modified four-route, five-bus system recommended in a consultant’s study, but without expanding service to Harrison Park or the Sunset Strip in Georgian Bluffs, as suggested.

It also asks staff to research, through the request for proposal process, prices for switching to a fully on-demand transit system with carpooling options as well as a service with hour-long routes that works until 9 p.m. on weekdays. The latter option would provide 9,500 hours of service per year.

Dennis Kefalas, director of public works and engineering, said now that the council has given direction, staff will complete the RFP for a new transit contract, with a plan to post it in the coming weeks. .

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“Once we get the proposals, we can go to the board because we will know the real costs and say here are the costs to provide each of these services – which one do you want to do? And we could provide a recommendation, ”he said in an interview.

Kefalas said the goal is for the board to choose a level of service by early spring.

Friday’s meeting came several weeks after council learned in a budget session that the city’s net cost to operate its current conventional transit system is expected to drop from $ 1.04 million in 2021 to $ 1.56 million in 2022 due to higher contract, fuel and winter maintenance costs and lower revenues, including transit tariffs.

Owen Sound’s current transit contract with First Student expires August 31.

In anticipation of the issuance of a new contract, the city retained Dennis Fletcher & Associates to carry out a study aimed at optimizing the service.

He recommended the city’s transition to a new four-route system that covers similar terrain to the current network and serves most existing stops, but offers more direct trips between frequent pickup points and popular destinations, such as the hospital, Georgian College and Walmart.

Each of the routes would last 40 minutes, instead of the current 30 minutes, but one would be operated with two buses, creating a 20-minute service interval. Three of the proposed routes would loop both on the west side and on the east side, with stops around the 20-minute mark at the downtown terminal.

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City officials have estimated that adopting this system would increase the estimated net cost of the service in 2022 by an additional $ 185,000.

The council received a report from Kefalas at the meeting that recommended the city seek prices for three options – transitioning to the system recommended in Fletcher’s report, maintaining the current four-route fixed transit system and 30 minutes and switching to an hour-long service, which city officials estimated would reduce the projected net increase for transit in 2022 from $ 499,000 to $ 150,000.

Fletcher made a presentation to council on the route optimization study.

Then Con. Carol Merton asked Fletcher what cut in service he would consider fair without creating a “systemic barrier by disproportionately affecting” those who need the service the most.

Fletcher said he would only consider implementing a service with hour-long routes if, at a minimum, the city extended weekday service hours later in the evening.

This led the council to decide to ask for prices for a fourth option – offering a one hour service but from 6.30am to 9pm. Buses now run from 6.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and do not run on Sundays or public holidays.

There was also a lot of talk about finding a price for an on-demand transit service or a carpooling-type model in which people could request a bus that would pick them up at a “virtual stop” or at their homes. and lead them to their destination.

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Dodd said he believes a fully on-demand system is worth exploring.

“I think this is an area that could do very well in Owen Sound. It can cost money – maybe when we get it back it will tell us it will cost $ 2 million and maybe everyone will say it will not work. But maybe it costs a million and a half; maybe it’s comparable to a current fixed system (but) actually sees increased ridership and increased service, ”he said.

Thomas suggested that in addition to researching prices for an on-demand system, the city is also asking bidders to offer ridesharing options, noting that Innisfil is partnering with Uber and other providers to offer trips. at a reduced price, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to its residents.

“I think the days of conventional bus service to Owen Sound are coming to an end. It’s not sustainable, it hasn’t been for a long time, but we are limping, trying to keep it going because, yes, you need public transport, ”he said.

“But given the news we got in December from our director of corporate services that we’re going to pay an extra half a million dollars this year for buses, I don’t think that’s sustainable at all.”

He said he believed the time had come for the council to “think outside the box” and find its own way to provide a conventional mass transit system.

Com. Scott Greig has spoken out against an Innisfil-style on-demand ridesharing service, saying it could make commuting more expensive for transit users.

“You lose control of what people are going to pay. We are going to subsidize taxi fares. So if you live in Brooke at 28 e Street and it costs you $ 9 to go to the grocery store or to the hospital where you have lost control. If the grant is $ 3, the user pays $ 6. And we’ve heard from people who are struggling to pay $ 3 or $ 4 right now. We are therefore going to overload the user; we are going to alienate the people in our community who are vulnerable and need this service, ”he said.

The city would also “lose control” of the operating costs of public transport if it switches to a dynamic on-demand system, he added.

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