COCHRANE— Cochrane On-Demand Local Transit will be reintroducing standard fares starting in August.
Starting on August 1 Cochrane On-Demand Local Transit (COLT) will be re-implementing fare collection on buses, said Town of Cochrane Special Projects Planner Devin LaFleche.
COLT began offering free services in April to ensure people were able to make essential trips during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the system also saw a drop in ridership.
“We saw the people who were using the service the most were trying to commute to essential services,” LaFleche said. “We tried to provide as much as a break as we could while demand was low.”
The transit system was able to save costs by reducing the number of buses and having sales centres closed.
LaFleche said it was decided to offer the service for free during the peak of COVID to accommodate people who were unable to buy a pass or felt uncomfortable buying passes online.
COLT sales locations have reopened, but the Town is giving staff time to adjust to re-entry and new public health protocols that are in place.
Riders can purchase passes online or buy monthly passes at sales locations starting on July 27. Sales locations include the Cochrane RancheHouse Administration Building, the Cochrane Public Library, Cochrane Family and Community Support Services, the Visitor Information Centre and Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre.
Masks will not be mandatory when riding the bus, but LaFleche said the Town is encouraging users to follow all Alberta Health Services guidelines and wear a face covering when accessing transit services.
LaFleche added that because it is an on-demand system COLT has been able to implement a maximum capacity of six passengers per bus to ensure two-metres of social distancing while seated on the bus takes place. COLT has also introduced enhanced cleaning on buses and will offer masks to riders in the future when they are received from the province.
Regular prices will be in place when fares resume. It will cost $2.50 for a one-way trip, $25 for a student monthly pass, $30 for seniors monthly pass and $50 for an adult monthly pass.
COLT was able to prove the flexibility of its system when COVID-19 hit Cochrane, he said. LaFleche explained the number of busses on the road was reduced from their full fleet of eight to four while offering the same service hours.
He added that the reduction in busses on the road allowed the system to also save on operational costs. The savings allowed the town to offer COLT as a free service during the pandemic.
LaFleche said there was a 74 per cent drop in ridership at the peak of COVID-19, but it has steadily increased and is now just below 20 per cent lower then pre-COVID levels of ridership.
Before the arrival of COVID, LaFleche said, it had been amazing to see the growth in ridership on COLT buses. He explained during the three months after the service was introduced it saw more than 200 riders each day.
COLT was introduced to Cochrane in October 2019 and offered a full on-demand stop-to-stop transit service. Is it the first of its kind in Canada, LaFleche said.
When the service first came to Cochrane it was offered as a free bus service. Fares were introduced in January but were removed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Riders can go to stops requests via the COLT app or website. Users can also check where the bus is on a route and if it is on time.
“It gives a better experience,” LaFleche said. “It’s been quite exciting to implement."