It has been two years since Cochrane's on-demand bus, COLT launched and today the service's providers are still trying to improve the service by learning through trial and error.
Ridership numbers are slowly on the climb back to pre-pandemic numbers. Sustainability and Transit Coordinator, Devin LaFleche says Covid has caused some grief as restrictions have limited the number of commuters on its busses from 21 to eight.
"For 2020 we came in 26 per cent under budget, and then for 2021 we are projected to come under budget again," said LaFleche.
During the past two years, only about three months have been a clean slate to collect data on its services with no Covid restrictions or promotional free fares in play. Although there are fewer busses running, LaFleche said the service level still meets the needs of the community.
Teaming up with Southland Transportation, COLT's interim regional service now goes between Cochrane and Calgary five days a week making stops at the Brentwood LRT Station and Downtown Calgary.
LaFleche explained that the long-term goal is to incorporate four fixed routes locally with the Transit Hub acting as the Town's bussing headquarters.
"We are looking at building out a bigger system," said LaFleche. "We are trying to create this public, private, partnership with Southland Transportation to help enhance the regional service, as well as expand our local service."
He added numerous transit companies are now reaching out to him and looking closely at the on-demand service for its ability to have more control.
"We choose an adaptable service, we have a lot of opportunity to build it around what Cochrane needs," he said.
With technology pushing the industry, LaFleche said adding certain features on the COLT app have allowed for its accessibility.
"We're adjusting things all the time," he said. "We created new ways that we can get senior groups or school groups, or dayhomes to be able to book. We're building transfers into the app, adding the book of 10 tickets, and we're looking at adding the monthly pass as well."
Community engagement is also important, said LaFleche, as Cochranites have expressed certain times they would like to see more busses available. Peak times such as Friday and Saturday evenings as well as Sundays, is something LaFleche says is on their radar.
"We love the feedback, appreciate the patience," he said. "It really does come down to cost. What we're looking at with that local-regional service integration is adding those fixed routes with the cost being covered by Southland, which will allow us to move more busses to other hours."
LaFleche added COLT works on efficient routing because it accommodates the most people in a one-hour window. For example, if someone needs a ride that is only five minutes away, they will drop them off because it is more efficient than keeping them on the bus for 30 minutes while it picks up and drops off other commuters.
In the future, LaFleche anticipates people will be utilizing transit more, and if COLT can continue to tweak its presence for the greater good, eventually tie-ins with e-scooters and bike share could be in the mix.
"There's some adjustment to innovation," said LaFleche. "We want to give Cochrane the most mobility options as possible."