Orangeville’s fare-free transit doubles ridership through spring despite mechanical issues with buses

August 31, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

The number of people utilizing Orangeville’s transit system has roughly doubled since fare-free rides were instated at the start of the year.

The number of riders in the second quarter of 2019 was 27,598; this year, that figure has more than doubled to 55,649. During the first three months of this year, ridership was up 71 per cent, and Town of Orangeville staff say that data indicates this trend will continue.

Pre-pandemic ridership numbers were used since some of the data for 2020-2022 may have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions.

“Hallelujah, I’m glad to see the results are in, and thus we have a success story here on our hands,” said Councillor Joe Andrews during a regular council meeting on Aug. 14.

Orangeville’s fare-free transit is under a two-year pilot project aimed at removing barriers to make the transportation system more affordable and effective.

The removal of bus fares is intended to help seniors, students and those who struggle with access to transportation due to its cost.

The estimated loss in revenue from offering fare-free transit in Orangeville is $530,000 over the duration of the two-year pilot.

The Town of Orangeville completed a Transit Optimization Study in March 2022 that reviewed the current transit network and recommended improvements. The study determined that a hybrid option with three fixed and one on-demand route would best suit the town.

On-demand bus services have riders use an app or make a phone call to request a ride to their location or a nearby bus stop.

The transit study also shows that only 67 per cent of Orangeville residents are within 400 metres of a bus stop. If the town moves to a hybrid model for transit, the study determined that number would increase to roughly 95 per cent.

In order to implement a hybrid transit model, construction of the Edelbrock Transit Terminal must be completed. The Hansen Blvd. bridge and roadway also need to be finished, and a system for on-demand bus service has to be purchased and implemented. 

While the new Transit Terminal is expected to be ready in early September, and the Hansen Blvd. bridge is nearly complete, finishing the remainder of Hansen and implementing an on-demand service will take until the first quarter of 2024.

Orangeville Mayor Lisa Post said she and Mono Mayor John Creelman met with staff from Go Transit earlier in the month to discuss new routes for the Go Bus between Orangeville and Brampton. Go Transit expressed an interest in the new transit hub being built at the Edelbrock Centre and the fare-free rides offered in Orangeville.

“With those few additions into our community, it was sounding pretty positive that they’re looking at offering more potential bus routes that will be better for commuter traffic, that will be more reliable, and getting people downtown where they don’t have to get to Brampton at six o’clock in the morning and get home back to Orangeville at eight o’clock at night,” Mayor Post said. “It looks like they’re looking at considerations on how they can support the efforts that we’re trying to put into transit.”

She added, “It’s great to see that on top of the social benefit that we’re seeing within our community, we’re seeing economical investment as well.”

Orangeville’s currently has a fleet of four 30-ft buses. Two of which were made in 2016, one from 2018, and one from 2019.

Several mechanical issues have plagued all four of Orangeville’s buses. The exhaust gas recirculation system failed in one of the 2016 buses, but it has since been repaired and is back on the road.

The rear-end components for the other 2016 bus failed early in July and were repaired. However, a road and diagnostic test revealed issues with the bus’s air conditioning system. Repairs are currently taking place, and there’s no estimated timeline for when it will be back in service. The town plans to have the bus back up and running when the weather cools, and air conditioning is no longer required.

The 2018 bus’s air conditioning unit has also failed, and it was removed from service due to the warm summer weather. It’s estimated that the bus will be repaired in November. But it will return to the road once the temperature drops and air conditioning is no longer needed.

The 2019 bus’s airbags that raise and lower it for easy access failed and were in need of replacement. Town staff said they hoped this bus would be back in service by early August.

“Although the above information [about the town’s buses] paints a less than ideal picture for the fleet and for providing service, transit’s Service provider/operator, First Student has done an admirable job substituting buses and keeping the service running,” reads a report by town staff on Orangeville Transit.

There currently isn’t advanced enough technology to move to electric buses in Orangeville, but the town’s general manager of transportation, Tony Dulisse, said this could take place by 2032.

“We would need somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 kilowatt per kilowatt hour battery,” he said. “Currently, the technology is about 250 to 300 for a bus that we run.”

The lifespan of Orangeville’s buses is expected to last 10 years, based on the total kilometres travelled and hours of operation. The town’s 2023 Budget includes grant applications to purchase one new 30 ft. bus. A tender will soon be issued, and a purchase order is expected to be issued in late 2023, with delivery in late 2024.

In 2024, the plan is to issue a request for tender for two new 30-ft. buses and purchase orders to be issued in late 2024. Delivery is expected to take 12-14 months, and these buses will replace buses the town purchased in 2015 and 2016. They’ll be in service in late 2025 or early 2026.

However, this purchase will first be brought to Orangeville Council’s 2024 budget discussions.

Looking further ahead, town staff plan to request a tender for one new 30 ft. bus in mid-2027 with an expected delivery date in mid-2028. This item will also be brought forward during Orangeville Council’s 2024 budget deliberations.

Another item to be considered during these budget discussions is one additional 30 ft. bus to be purchased in mid-2028 and delivered in mid-2029.

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