After several months of offering free service, regular fares are being re-established for Cochrane's local transit system on Aug. 1.

Transit coordinator Devin LaFleche says ridership on the Cochrane On-Demand Local Transit (COLT) has risen steadily after plunging 74 per cent at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. It's now within 20 per cent of pre-COVID numbers.

"We're seeing ridership climb, and now we're looking at reimplementing fares and giving people enough time to adjust to that," says LaFleche.

He says they are considering providing subsidies where necessary.

"We're working with FCSS to look at how do we support those residents using COLT who need extra assistance during this difficult time," says LaFleche.

Regular one-way fares are $2.50 and infants five and under ride free of charge. There are also a series of discounted options for passes and books of tickets. 

Single one-way fares can be purchased through the Ride COLT app and online using a credit card. Retail outlets for passes and ticket books are located at the town administrative office in the Cochrane RancheHouse, FCSS, Cochrane Public Library, Visitor Information Centre, and Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre.

You can find out more information here.

COVID-19 protocols will remain in effect. Since the outbreak, they have beefed up sanitizing and instituted social distancing measures to protect their drivers and passengers.

Additionally, they have been provided with 10,000 face masks to distribute to passengers upon request.

The town now has its full fleet of eight buses, each equipped with bicycle racks. Two are currently used throughout the day, with a third one added during peak ridership (11:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.).

The bike racks have been popular, but they can be challenging for first-time users.

"It's a novel experience," LaFleche admits.  "Even the first time I used one, I found it can be very intimidating when you have people waiting on the bus."

Soon, they'll be launching a series of "Learn to Use the Bike Rack Days" at the Farmers' Market and other public events. People will be able to gain some hands-on experience. Heightened sanitizing measures will be in place for these events.

They are also partnering with a local group to shoot a how-to video. 

LaFleche says adjustments were made during lower ridership to keep costs well within budget. It's here that being an on-demand system has worked to their advantage.

Pandemic has caused some delays

The pandemic has impacted the timelines for further development of COLT, including the anticipated regional connector.

"Right now we don't have an official timeline. We were looking to mid-2020, and then COVID happened. Everybody's focus shifted to how do we adapt to that, and long-term planning was placed on a bit of a hiatus. So we're now back at the table."

The town is working with Southland Transportation Ltd. and other contractors to determine fixed routes and bus stop amenities.

They'll soon be seeking public feedback on where regional transit pickup points should be established in town, and the best drop-off points in Calgary.

A temporary transit hub will also be established in advance of the permanent one being constructed on Railway St.