A vastly expanded regional transit service between Cochrane and Calgary is set to launch on Aug. 29, thanks to a partnership created between the Town of Cochrane and Southland Transportation.

The services of COLT have been integrated with an enhanced On-It regional transit service to offer seven weekday trips to the Brentwood LRT/University of Calgary from The Station in Cochrane.

The number of weekday trips to downtown Calgary has doubled to four with stops in six locations.

"It's a really big additional," says Devin LaFleche, Cochrane's Community Connectivity Advisor. "Right now, there are just two trips, so one in the morning leaving around 6:30 a.m., then one in the afternoon leaving 3:30 coming back just after 5. This is going from two trips to 11, so it's quite the jump."

The latest return bus will now allow users to leave downtown Calgary around 6 p.m., and the last trip back to Cochrane from Brentwood is 6:50 p.m.

To celebrate the new local/regional service integration, On-It Regional Transit will be free for the first three days of service.

It will be launched with 50-passenger coaches, says LaFleche, and Southlands is working to find executive coaches that carry 30 to 35 passengers.

There are several options for tickets, ranging from one-way passes to ticket books to monthly passes. Downtown monthly passes have a higher price point than those to the Brentwood station because of the distance involved.

Cochrane was encouraged by Calgary Transit to use Brentwood as a drop-off point because it is a better connection to the city's massive transit system, explains LaFleche, The Univerity of Calgary is right there, and it's the fastest and simplest way for students to reach SAIT.

"The fact that SAIT is connected to the LRT system made a lot more sense to include it as part of the Brentwood trip, and have a cheaper pass for them as well."

All prices include a COLT ticket to connect you from the bus stop closest to your home to The Station departure point.

Bookings are expected to open a week in advance of the Aug. 29 launch.

"What that allows you to do is reserve your spot on the bus as well as get real-time updates on the location of the bus. So you can see where it is on the map in real-time, as well as get real updates if they're running late.

"It also allows us to collect more data. We're going to be adjusting the service as we roll it out, looking at demand patterns, and really catering to the needs of our community, and the users coming from Calgary as well."

LaFleche says they expect the new services to attract new customers from both Cochrane and Calgary.

"What we're trying to focus on as well is the new type of rider. We're still servicing the commuters but we really want to expand that service. As we add more riders, we can expand the service even further."

"As we see demand patterns start to develop, we're going to be looking at dynamic routes and even fixed routes. We've been doing some modelling but until we can get a good understanding of the demand patterns, we don't want to commit to the routes. There's a lot of value in a fixed route, but you want to make sure you have constant demand along it so you have a more efficient route."

The goal was to establish the regional service in mid-2020 but that came to a screeching halt due to COVID.

With restriction easing, transit use is on the rise. Just last month, COLT surpassed the 100,000 passenger mark, says LaFleche, and is back to pre-COVID ridership of between 250 to 300 daily, and growing stronger.

Now it's a matter of keeping up with the demand, putting more vehicles on the road, and finding more drivers at a time when there's a North Amercian wide shortage.

Weekend trips could be added in the future, as well as a regular service to the mountain communities, potentially in partnership with Swift Transit of the Stoney Nakoda Nation.

Full details, including links to the initial schedule and an interactive map, can be found here