Submitted by Christine Whelan
Sept 30th, 2021, VOL. 3 ISSUE 3
Fort Erie is switching from Fixed Route Services to On-Demand Service starting October 4th.
On-Demand Transit is a shared-ride service that responds to ride requests rather than following a fixed route. Riders can request when the where they can be picked up and dropped off within service boundaries of $3.00 per ride.
On-Demand Transit will run Monday to Saturday from 6:00 am until 9:00 pm.
I checked in with Kelly Walsh, Director of Infrastructure Services, to see if all is ready to go.
Walsh assured, “Generally, it’s a great news story for the town. We’re going to be getting a transit system that is much more flexible and can better meet the needs of the community in that, instead of waiting for the bus every hour, you can, more or less, specify your pick-up time and drop off time. The background programs will do all the work to tell you when you’re going to get there.
“It’s essentially a $3.00 taxi.”
When asked if this is saving money, he responded with, “Our transit system has taken significant losses since the beginning of COVID. We were on the right track before that. We were increasing ridership by about 10% a year. We are looking to increase ridership beyond where we were in 2019 by 20%, hopefully almost immediately.
“From the Town’s perspective, budget-wise, it’s less expensive to operate than the conventional transit, just from a dollar point of view. From an environmental point of view, we won’t be running around with big buses anymore, but with fuel-efficient Dodge Caravans.
“It will suit everybody’s needs, from high school students, right up to seniors. The vehicles are fully accessible.”
With a finishing breath, “We’re professionally excited here.”
When discussing the transition process, Kelly felt everything was in place, including the communication with the residents of Fort Erie.
“We’re really going to be pushing the social media promotion on the Town’s Facebook Page and our Twitter Page to get the word out there, that this is coming and it’s a great thing.”
Starting this week, staff will be on the conventional buses for two weeks. There will be a two-week overlap where both systems will run. “The week after, we terminate the big buses, and then it’s strictly on-demand.”
Referring to the new provider of this new transit system, “Regional Limousine had put in a great proposal. It seems they have a great team behind them in terms of software and programming and such. And it was great that they were able to retain all the existing drivers. We’re really looking forward to it.”
Walsh shared that they will be looking at expanding the system’s hours in the future if there is a presented need.
When discussing the physical area the system will be covering. “It will be all of the Greater Fort Erie area. It will be from bus stop to bus stop with certain exceptions. Regional Limo has committed to, after sunset, the riders will be dropped off at their driveways for safety measures. In the country, it will be automatically driveway to driveway.
I touched base with Julie Brady, who along with her husband Nick, owns and operates Regional Limousine. She agreed with the expression Kelly Walsh used. At their end, they too are professionally excited.
She also expressed an understanding, “Any kind of change is scary but this will be for the better.”
For anyone who is nervous about using an app on their phone to book, “They can still call. We have someone on dispatch from 6:00 am until 9:00 pm.”
Regarding staff on the buses at the beginning to explain the transition and answer any questions, “I had one of our drivers, Wendy, out today. She had a stack of postcards to hand out to riders and talked to them about the easiest way to book a ride when it starts, which will be either by app or by phone.
There is a focus on safety. When talking about the driveway pick-ups and drop-offs after sunset, Brady added, “Especially if there are no sidewalks and streetlights or big ditches. I’m not going to drop someone off at the street corner after dark.”
Julie explained the postcards. “The Town put out postcards. There’s a QR code on it. When you hit the QR code you have to enter a transit code which is fetransit. That information is on the postcard.”
To get an extension on the transit services, there has to be a proven need.
Julie explained what Fort Erie residents need to do. “Whoever wants service on Sunday needs to send messages to the Town, through Let’s Talk Fort Erie, on the Town’s website: forterie.ca. People have been commenting on Facebook and that’s not going to get anywhere. The Town can apply for funding for extended service if there’s a proven need for it.”
If you have any questions or want to learn more about Fort Erie On-Demand Transit, visit fetransit.ca or call 1-833-BUS-LINE (1-833-287-5463).
Photos provided by Julie Brady.