The passengers to downtown Calgary and the Brentwood LRT station got on the bus early this morning across the street from the Cochrane Station on Railway St. W. for the first trips of an expanded regional transit service between Cochrane and Calgary.

Rides will now be free until Aug. 31 to introduce an enhanced schedule created in partnership by the Town of Cochrane and Southland Transportation.

A brief ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at 9 a.m. for a service that has been years in the making.

Cochrane deputy mayor Tara McFadden has been on council long enough to remember the intense debate in the community as to whether local transit was required. 

"This is a really exciting day, not only for myself but for all of Cochrane," says McFadden. "Transit has had a long story here in Cochrane and so it's really great to get to this point where we're introducing that regional piece. It took a lot of discussion around transit to get to this point, and it's really exciting to see that first bus rolling out."

The town and Southland Transportation first worked together to create COLT, a cutting-edge on-demand system ideal for smaller communities. Officials of both say this next step offers a flexible schedule not previously available.

"Being able to link it up with our On-It commuter to Calgary is extremely exciting," says Craig Loose, Southland's Southern Alberta Regional Director. "It's an opportunity, working with the town, to get more cost-effective ridership options for people to get into Calgary, whether it's to university or shopping or their place of employment. It's offering more options, better flexibility, and takes more cars off the road in a cost-effective manner."

The service isn't only of value to those heading to Calgary, points out Devin LaFleche, Cochrane Community Connectivity Advisor.

There are a growing number of people commuting to Cochrane for work and for visits, including the growing tech sector.

"I have talked to a couple of different tech companies and they've mentioned that they're hiring people who are young professionals who have never driven," says LaFleche. "So they get these jobs in Cochrane and wonder how they're going to get there. This provides a really affordable and convenient option for them."

The weekday service has been expanded to include seven daily stops at the Brentwood/University of Calgary LRT station and four to downtown Calgary. That means whether it's early morning, mid-afternoon, or early evening, a transportation link is available.

For the first trip to downtown Calgary this morning the bus was about half full, says LaFleche. There were also a number of new riders for the drop-off at the LRT station.

LaFleche says there's typically less demand for transit on Monday and Friday, especially with flex work schedules. He says when school resumes they expect the demand to increase.

After the three-day free period, a variety of different ticket options are available, from one-time to the most economical monthly pass.