The Cochrane On-demand Local Transit initiative in Cochrane, AB, is a 2020 co-winner in the transportation category of FCM’s Sustainable Communities Awards.

Addressing public transit needs can be a challenge for rural and smaller communities. After considering conventional fixed route transit options for many years, the Town of Cochrane, AB, began a fresh research process and public consultation. With a better understanding of community needs and local transit options, the Town developed an on-demand transit system that provides affordable, accessible transportation to the community and operates at one-third the cost of a similar fixed route service.

Made-in-Cochrane solution best meets local needs

The Cochrane On-demand Local Transit (COLT) system is the first fully on-demand, stop-to-stop transit service in Canada. It provides all-day service and full community coverage with eight buses and more than 150 stops. COLT riders use a mobile app, website or the phone to request a stop on a specific day and time. The Town selected an on-demand system over other options after an extensive process of research and public consultation showed that it would best meet residents’ needs and priorities.

COLT addresses need for affordability, inclusion and accessibility

COLT uses only wheelchair accessible buses, and residents that require assistance or don’t have access to a smartphone or computer can book a trip by phone. The transit system offers one of the lowest monthly pass prices in Alberta, and a fixed contract cost based on vehicle hours lets COLT increase or decrease vehicle services while staying within budget. This proved its value during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Town was able to maintain service with fewer buses to match a decrease in ridership. The transit system has also been designed to grow in step with an expected increase in population, and create fixed routes as required or add taxi services to create a mobility-as-a-service platform.

Access to public transit has significant social benefits

COLT has been popular from the start: over 500 people tried to book a trip on the first day, and in the first five months of operation, the system completed over 20,000 passenger trips, saving an estimated 12 tonnes of CO2. Riders are mostly youth or seniors who would formerly have relied on friends and family to drive them. More independence means less social isolation for seniors and easier access to work and after school activities for youth. Better transportation options also increase the employee pool, especially among millennials, and local businesses are reporting less employee turnover.

Lack of public consultation stalled earlier transit planning

While reviewing failed transit plans from the previous 10 years, the transit task force noted that they had all been presented to the community as complete plans. Recognizing this as a key problem in the past, the Town solicited resident input and involvement prior to designing the COLT system, ensuring they developed a plan that services community needs.

Another challenge the project faced was a delay in bus delivery.  However, borrowing Calgary Transit buses enabled the project to launch on time. Integrating the local transit system with regional transit will be a future challenge, and the Town is already working on a cost sharing plan with the regional transit system that will increase fare revenue and add greater service to the community.

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