Orangeville to introduce on-demand transit service

May 13, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

Municipal transit at the push of a button is coming to Orangeville.

Council unanimously approved a motion that will introduce a pilot program for on-demand transit services during a meeting on May 10.

Town staff are engaging a consultant to assist in adding an on-demand route on top of two existing fixed routes, in an effort to increase accessibility and ridership numbers among residents in areas with low uptake.

On-demand transit differs from conventional service in that there’s no fixed route or schedule, buses are dispatched as requested during service hours, allowing for a greater coverage area, as the Town’s current system only covers two thirds of the municipality.

The dispatched buses create a dynamic route based on passenger requests for pick-ups and drop-offs, which are made through calling a customer service provider or a digital mobile app. The requests will have to be made at least one hour in advance of the requested trips.

Following the presentation of the on-demand transit report to Council, Coun. Todd Taylor lauded the research done on it and thanked Town staff for bringing it forward.

“I think this is exactly what we should be doing. It’s innovative and will allow us to roll this out to the rest of the Town, which is woefully overdue,” he remarked.

The pilot program will run for 18 months and around the end of that time, two new buses will be purchased and added to Orangeville’s existing fleet. This will allow Orangeville to move from its current three route system to four.

Depending on the community’s response to the on-demand transit service, the Town may keep it as an option or move back to all fixed routes at the end of the pilot period.

Currently, Orangeville’s three-route system utilizes a fleet of four buses. When the Town moves to six buses and finishes constructing a new transit transfer terminal at the Edelbrock Centre, it will be able to offer a fourth route.

The issue of offering a fourth route with only four buses is that the spare bus ratio is too weak, so transit services are disrupted each time a bus needs to be repaired or serviced.

In Town staff’s report regarding the on-demand transit service, it notes that a fourth route will assist greatly in improving route efficiency, as riders have routinely commented on the timing of the system.

Coun. Grant Peters brought up concerns for residents who may find accessing the on-demand service cumbersome, if they’re not literate with technology or aware of how to go about booking an on-demand bus.

Orangeville manager of operations and development, John Lackey, responded by noting that there will be a learning curve for the public, but a communication plan will be rolled out to assist residents in understanding the steps involved with booking a bus.

“I appreciate the report and the concept. I know some other municipalities have done it with some success, or at least collecting some data, and while I appreciate the solution for Orangeville, we can only get there once we understand the data,” said Coun. Peters

“I do worry that we may be changing the system on the customer base, on our residents. People are already somewhat frustrated with the system in its current state… I have some hesitation regarding how much change the public is willing to accept when it comes to a system that’s already, under some criticism.”

Lackey said this is a valid point and the Town of Orangeville does want to give the public some time to understand the new system and its implications. He also noted the current system is going to be mimicked by the two fixed routes when on-demand service is introduced, so riders shouldn’t expect too much change.

“It’s always been intended to go to a four route system and that’s our goal,” Lackey said. “In that regard, we’re hoping that we’re not changing the system dramatically to affect our ridership. What we want to do is simply reach out to those areas that aren’t being reached now and to make the system more balanced, and more reliable, so that ridership will increase.”

The cost of the consultant to assist in the design of the on-demand system is anticipated to cost between $15,000–$20,000, according to Lackey.

On-demand service is a relatively new concept in the transit world. Municipalities such as Belleville and Barrie have implemented the system with success in meeting some of their transit challenges and needs. The system works best when trip demands are low and outside of fixed route zones.

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