Town council is seeking an understanding of options and costs before deciding what to do about Cochrane's struggling on-demand transit system.
It also came to the realization that a transit expert may need to help get them out of the woods on the burning issue.
One thing that seemed certain during the Oct. 16 presentation by Community Services director Mitchell Hamm is council wants to take a look at improving the system, as opposed to scrapping it altogether. The biggest questions remain, how and how much?
At the end of a detailed presentation, Hamm presented four scenarios for council to consider. He outlined the advantages and disadvantages of maintaining the current system, making both short-term and long-term investments, or having the town get out of transit.
He asked three questions to provide guidance to administration. Does council have a financial goal for public transit? Are the original non-financial goals of COLT still relevant? Of the four scenarios, which scenario would council like brought in a report?
Despite Councillor Morgan Nagel expressing the view that the town should divest itself from transit, he did agree with the rest of council that recommendations from a transit expert would go a long way in helping council decide what to do.
"If it was found to be that having a well-functioning transit system is just exorbitantly expensive, I am of the school of thought that no system is better than a broken system. I know that's not going to happen, so don't worry anybody who's watching, we're not going to get rid of transit, much to my disappointment."
"I think we just need to hire the consultant as you're asking or suggesting and we just begin the actual work of planning for a high-functioning transit system."
The wealth of information provided wasn't exactly what council was expecting as a follow-up to a detailed presentation in May.
"We started talking about maybe having a fixed route and still doing some on-demand stuff, and maybe taking it over ourselves," said Councillor Susan Flowers. "All these ideas have been thrown around, but nothing has hit the wall or come forward, so please tell us what we need to do."
Despite its shortfalls, there has been a huge upswing in utilization. Even through the pandemic, ridership has increased annually. This year has seen the largest head count yet. It's projected to reach between 68,000 and 72,000 riders, up from 48,282 in 2022.
Hamm wasn't gentle in telling council about COLT's current reality. He said COLT's reputation is at risk, and its reliability, spontaneity, and efficiency remain challenges.
Hamm drew attention to negative responses from two users who found COLT unreliable. One was late for work twice and was being threatened with his job.
"There will be no next chance for me if I arrive late, I am definitely losing my job."
Another customer complained in order to arrive on time for work, you need to "find" a bus that runs 1.5-2 hours before you start.
"Not reliable, poor planning on Southland and the town when they know there's construction. It should not be up to us, the rider, to get up earlier. It's like neither understands what on-demand truly means."
It wasn't all bad news. The rider rating on the RideCo app is currently four stars out of five, and some users have provided some flattering feedback, particularly about their drivers.
We can expect to hear more on the topic during council's budget deliberations.
Councillor Patrick Wilson left the chambers for the discussion due to a potential conflict of interest with his own company.
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