Cochrane was awarded funding for regional transit last week, but its top priority remains launching local transit in September for which the pieces are starting to fall into place.

A request for proposals (RFP) was issued earlier this month for eight low-floor mid-sized gasoline or propane transit buses and closes Mar. 25. Other RFPs will follow, explains Cochrane Transit analyst Devin LaFleche, including a fare collection system. Meanwhile, he's been mapping locations for potential bus stop locations.

The town aims to have a soft launch of local transit by Sept. 1. The fare will be free for the first two months to provide the town the opportunity to work out any bugs in their cutting-edge on-demand system while allowing residents to become familiar with the service.

"Everything seems to be off to the races, so to speak," says LaFleche.

Finding a viable mid-sized transit bus has been carefully studied by the town and while some innovative European versions are attractive they just don't fit the mold here.

"I think now we have a better idea about what can work for the town because you have to have that local supply for parts and some of the things we were looking at were great buses in Europe but they don’t have the clearance for the height of our snow or a diesel heater onboard," he explains.

Nor were electric buses a consideration because there simply isn't enough of a track record to understand whether they would cope in our winter climate. In addition, they come with a hefty price tag, almost equivalent to a full-sized coach.

Electric buses, though, are a feasible option for coaches the town wants to use for its future regional commuter connection to Calgary. It has become closer to reality with last week's announcement of Cochrane receiving $2.125 million from the Alberta Community Transit Fund (ACT).

Even then, it will not happen until local transit is up and running smoothly and implementation plans are devised. At this point, the regional system is something they have discussed at a high level with Southland Transportation, the contractor for Cochrane's transit system.

"We ran this by them, talked about it a bit, but first we said let’s get some funding behind this to see if there’s actually something we can move forward with it. Now we have a larger discussion on how implementation will work and what kind of partnership we will do. So this will be the next step and they're excited to hear about us getting the ACT fund. It’s a bigger discussion now."

The implementation plan for the local transit system aided the town in being considered for the ACT funding.

"The province is trying to increase that regional connection and once they saw that we had the local it was, 'OK, let’s see how we can expand the regional service'," says LaFleche.

The town has two years in which to report how the ACT funds will be used.

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