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Transit ON Demand in city's south end delayed due to lack of demand

'Just with the slow growth in the area… it really isn’t sustainable with the amount of ridership right now,' says councillor
2020-01-16 Barrie Transit RB
A Barrie Transit bus outside the downtown terminal in this file photo. Raymond Bowe/BarrieToday

A perceived lack of demand in south-end Barrie’s development land for Transit ON Demand has delayed the start of bus service there for a year.

City councillors pushed the fall 2022 start time in the Salem and Hewitt’s subdivision area back a year during operating and capital budget talks earlier this week. 

“Just with the slow growth in the area… it really isn’t sustainable with the amount of ridership right now,” Coun. Robert Thomson said.

“I just don’t know that we necessarily have the demand, even though the numbers are hitting the (population) threshold staff look at,” said Coun. Gary Harvey.

The bus service was slated to begin in the fall of 2022 with a $200,000 cost, then increase to almost $745,000 in 2023, $1.1 million the next year and nearly $1.2 million in 2025.

Those timelines and costs have all been advanced by one year, saving city taxpayers almost $155,000 next year.

Transit ON Demand service is an morning/evening peak-hour bus that accommodates the actual ridership demand, with a third peak bus available if ridership warrants it. Barrie Transit has been operating this service as a pilot program since August 2020 and it has provided short travel times, good on-time performance and good reviews from riders.

Coun. Keenan Aylwin said he disagreed with delaying the service for a year.

“We want to encourage transit use and there’s no better way than to start early and start when you move into a new area, get used to it and build that habit in using transit  which we know is imperative right now with climate change,” he said. “This is an accessibility issue for seniors living in the area. We’ve got to make sure that we meet that bare minimum of service levels.”

Brent Forsyth, the city’s director of transit and parking strategy, said the threshold for providing transit services to new areas is when they hit 200 occupied housing units or 500 residents.

Salem has 396 occupied units with more than 1,000 residents and by 2022 the city is forecasting 1,431 residents. Hewitt’s has 132 occupied units and 359 residents, and 849 residents are projected by 2022.

“It’s really to try to encourage that use of transit and potentially try to put aside the need for a second vehicle, or first vehicle or whatever,” Forsyth said of bus service to new areas. “Salem is actually already at that threshold and we believe in early 2022 Hewitt’s will be at that threshold, too.”

Then there’s the maximum walking distance from public transit.

Forsyth said in Hewitt’s, 75 per cent of the occupied housing units are outside the 400-metre maximum, while 100 per cent are outside that distance in Salem.

Mayor Jeff Lehman asked Forsyth if he had looked at adding Transit ON Demand in Salem in 2022 and Hewitt’s in 2023.

“No, at this point we had forecasted that they would both meet that (population) threshold in 2022,” Forsyth said.

But a majority of councillors still voted for the one-year delay.

City council will consider final approval of this motion at its Dec. 6 meeting.

The Salem subdivision is located in south-end Barrie, near the city boundary with Innisfil  west of Veterans Drive, south and north of Salem Road, down to and past McKay Road West to the municipal border.

The Hewitt’s subdivision is an area farther east, south of Mapleview Drive East and north of Lockhart Road.  

Transit ON Demand is a Barrie Transit service without a fixed schedule or route. Users can book their trip through an application and then bus travel is optimized through a computer-based system. The service operates within a specific zone, allowing riders to travel from bus stop to bus stop within the zone on demand.

The city launched the Transit ON Demand pilot project Aug. 17, 2020, servicing an area from Huronia Road and Lockhart Road to Bayview Drive and Little Avenue. The pilot was deemed a success, with riders receiving faster trips, shorter wait times and reporting high satisfaction. 

Bob Bruton

About the Author: Bob Bruton

Bob Bruton is a full-time BarrieToday reporter who covers politics and city hall.
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