Orangeville moving to hybrid model for transit

May 12, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

The Town of Orangeville will soon be taking a new approach to transit.

A motion passed 6-1 directing Town staff to implement a hybrid – fixed and on-demand bus service and re-direct 2021 capital funds to purchase two new 30-foot low floor accessible buses and two new accessible mini-buses, during a Council meeting in late April.

“The hybrid model uses direct fixed routes along the highest ridership corridors and utilizes on-demand transit in the lower demand areas to connect to the fixed route services or destinations within the on-demand zones,” explained Dennis Kar of Dillon Consulting Limited, who was hired to advise the Town on what new transit system would best serve its needs.

“The fixed route services are provided along Broadway to the hospital and to the major retail areas in the north east [of Town] where the ridership demand is the highest. These are direct two-way services which will minimize travel times to these high ridership areas.”

The hybrid on-demand service is meant to connect lower demand areas of the town to the higher demand fixed route service, allowing customers to complete their trip, said Kar.

A number of transfer points have been identified to connect between the on-demand service and fixed route.

But there are some drawbacks to the model, according to Kar.

“The challenge with this model is that residents will need to transfer between the on-demand and fixed route services, and these transfers may be unattractive to some passengers,” he noted.

Another drawback is the start-up costs associated with procurement of new on-demand software for Town owned buses as well as educating the public.

But a key feature, which Coun. Lisa Post lauded following Kar’s presentation, is the flexibility in service hours and accessibility.

“We have an opportunity here now to really extend our time of service to allow all of our part time workers who are working retail until nine or 10 o’clock at night, or some of our servers who are working in restaurants and bars to be able to access our transit, with an on-demand service that goes much later than what we have historically done,” said Coun. Post.

“I think we’ve got a really great opportunity here to make some big changes that will really improve the lives of the people who are depending on transit or those who would like to depend on transit, but it just hasn’t worked out.”

Following Coun. Post’s remarks, Coun. Todd Taylor said he believes the hybrid model will be a great thing for the residents of Orangeville.

“I think this is a very good thing for Orangeville. I think it gives us the flexibility that we need. All of us have probably been criticized and taken some hits over transit during our time, and the reality is people are happy to pay for transit, they just want to see it used, and this option in my mind will give us the best chance,” he commented.

“If this doesn’t work, ladies and gentlemen, a future Council will have to make a decision about something else, but I think this is exactly where we need to go.”

Meanwhile, Karr shared some background on the on-demand transit service with Council during his presentation.

“On-demand transit does not follow a fixed route or schedule like the existing service. Instead, an on-demand zone is defined and vehicles are scheduled and routed in real time based on when and where passengers want to travel,” said Kar.

“The on-demand technology is used in the back end to optimize trip requests balancing the need to share rides in each vehicle while minimizing travel time. So, it provides the most direct route possible based on passenger trip requests, while looking for opportunities to pick up other passengers along the route, with slight deviations to share that ride and provide that public transit service.”

Transit users access this service by downloading an app on their cell phone or going to a website to book their ride.

“The app will identify which stop the passenger should walk to and gives an estimated pickup time and drop off time based on the requested trip that they want to make,” Kar noted. “Customers can also use the app to track where their vehicle is in real time and even pay for their ride so there’s some certainty about when they need to arrive at the stop for that vehicle to pick them up.”

Another way of accessing the system is by contacting a call centre to book a ride, which is an important feature for transit riders without smartphones.

Kar said on-demand transit works best in periods of the day where ridership is low and from a customer perspective, it is best in areas of the town that are far from existing bus routes or where travel patterns are scattered.

While the on-demand service model is relatively new, Orangeville isn’t the first municipality to implement it.

“There are a number of other transit systems that have implemented the service model in low demand areas or periods of the day, and there a number of best practices that Orangeville can learn from,” said Kar. “We’re not starting from scratch here. This is something that’s been implemented in many communities.”

Milton, Belleville, Wellington County, York Region, Durham Region, and Barrie have all adopted an on-demand transit service.

Before the pandemic, Orangeville transit delivered nearly 103,000 annual trips or about 35 trips per hour, which is considered a “very high” level of usage for a system of its size.

Dillon Consulting, who was hired by the Town to explore what system would best serve the transit needs of Orangeville, gave Council three options.

The first is going to a fixed route system, covering the transit network by about 73 per cent, which would be an increase from the 66 per cent that’s currently covered.

“The benefits of this option is that existing passengers are accustomed to fixed route service, which makes the transition easier than any of the on-demand service models that were identified. It also provides a more attractive travel times to a number of key destinations,” said Kar. “The challenge with this option is that a cover that coverage only increases slightly and there are still many areas within the town that are not within a desired five-minute walking distance to a transit stop.”      

This option had a low ranking by the consultants due to its minimal flexibility in adjusting service letters and the circuitous routes. It’s estimated annual net cost is $931,000.

The second option is a fully on-demand system, where there are no fixed routes and passengers pre-book trips. The route is created dependent on the trips being booked by riders, and a key benefit is it would cover 100 per cent of the local transit network. A downside was that some streets present physical challenges for buses to manoeuvre and with on-demand transit being a new concept, it could confuse riders who are unfamiliar with the program.

A fully on-demand transit system is generally used in regions with lower demand, that don’t see high ridership from fixed routes. The estimated annual net cost is $871,000.

The final and highest-ranking option, a hybrid – fixed and on-demand system, is seen as most cost effective while also being the best way of providing a consistent transit service to the majority of Orangeville, covering 100 per cent of the local transit network. Its net annual cost is estimated to be $910,000.

In terms of next steps, the Town of Orangeville will begin to further engage with the community through information sessions and demonstrations, online notices, and targeted notices to existing customers to educate them about how to use the new on-demand system.

A Request for Proposal (RFP) will also be going out for a technology provider for the on-demand system.

Council’s next meeting is scheduled for May 16.

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