The results of first phase of the extensive public engagement included in a comprehensive transit study has reconfirmation what we've been hearing from residents all along.

Really, the smoking gun is the second phase of the engagement that will be launched in mid-August and the final report that will follow that gets down to the nitty-gritty of ways it can be improved and at what cost.

Seventy-four per cent of 1,013 people participating in the engagement believe fixed, scheduled routes is the way to go to enhance the reliability and usefulness of the service instead of the current on-demand model.

There are other stats, of course, but this is the burning question for those who want to use the service but have been frustrated by failed attempts to book in advance online.

Michelle Delorme, Community Services manager, presented council the results of the public engagement conducted by Left Turn Right Turn Limited.

"Reliability emerged as the top priority among survey respondents," she told council. "Many shared concerns and stories about being stranded after booking a trip one way. Seventy-four per cent of respondents identified regular service, I don't need to book in advance, as their number one desired change. Additionally, many have mentioned the inability to book trips at all."

The findings showed that 40 per cent of users experienced failed trip searches and nearly 30 per cent of all trip searches resulted in failed attempts. She said it becomes more pronounced throughout afternoons with failed trip services nearly equalling the number of completed trips by 4 p.m.

She said nearly a quarter of cancelled bookings occur an hour before the schedule ride, pointing to potential reliability and flexibility issues of the current system.  No shows or abandoned trips point to areas that could be optimized.

From May 17 to June 9, Cochrane residents were asked to provide their expectations and experiences regarding Cochrane’s transit service. Users and non-users of COLT were invited to take part by filling out online and hard copy surveys which were available at the Cochrane Public Library, the Station and FCSS. In person opportunities to provide feedback were available at The Station and the Farmers Market on May 30 and June 1 respectively. A Community Partner Workshop also took place on May 31st.  

Delorme says the second round of engagement will include a virtual session with a resident focus group and online and paper surveys. It will detail the benefits and risks of the current services and elaborate on key findings to date.

"Based on this analysis and council's feedback to the questionnaire you received in June, a draft vision and strategic goals for transit in Cochrane will be developed," she told council.

The consultant will be presenting 2025 service options and a long-term transit service vision to council in mid-September.

Already, councillors already seem anxious to get to the bottom line of finding a balance between the social need and the cost to ratepayers. Some staked out positions but it's all high level until the numbers are crunched.