BANFF – Banff council continues to drive ahead with improvements to the Roam public transit service.
At a Dec. 9 service review meeting, council tentatively approved spending $60,000 annually to continue running the Calgary-Banff On-It service in the coming years, as well as another $60,000 to expand the service to seven days a week, starting in summer 2021.
In addition, another $50,000 has been set aside to increase frequency of the regional Banff-Canmore route. The Town of Canmore, a partner in Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission (BVRTSC) is also chipping in for this.
“There’s no anticipation that visitation is going to drop in this area,” said Martin Bean, BVRTSC’s chief administrative officer.
“As we’ve seen over the past few years, as we increase service, ridership use continues to increase above our expectations.”
Currently, the regional Banff-Canmore bus is is hourly throughout the mid-day period and every 30 minutes during the peak commuter times. Weekends are hourly, other than summer months, where peak daytime service is every 30 minutes.
Next year, the service would run every 30 minutes between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.
The Banff-Canmore buses had trouble staying on schedule over summer due to congestion and traffic delays with increasing back-to-back trains, leading some regular Roam riders to revert back to driving.
Officials say running an additional bus will help Roam stay on schedule and perhaps encourage the 96 per cent of Canmore commuters who still prefer to drive to Banff to take the bus instead.
Mayor Karen Sorensen voiced support for the additional service, noting this route operates at almost full cost recovery.
“I do think particularly on the this route that frequency is our friend and the way we’re going to make a difference is to make it even more convenient than it already is,” she said.
Council will also fund its portion of the Calgary-Banff On-It Service partnership again next year in the wake of a 73 per cent increase in ridership, up from 11,745 riders in 2018 to 20,263 this year.
Officials say the jump in the number of people taking the bus suggests that marketing efforts are starting to pay off, and knowledge of the service is expanding, adding the $10 each way fare is also a good deal.
“We have no reason to believe this was a blip … we would anticipate 2020 would be high ridership again,” said Stephen Allan, the Town of Banff’s engineering coordinator.
Coun. Chip Olver said she believes continuing the service next year and increasing it to seven days a week in 2021 will lead to long-term behavioural change in how tourists are travelling to the townsite and national park.
“With certainty of this service continuing through multiple years now, people can really embrace that service change and we can advertise it better,” she said.
“It was astounding to see 73 per cent increase in ridership this year. We know our streets are congested and we want these people to get out of the car.”
Coun. Ted Christensen was unsuccessful in trying to get his council colleagues to only approve spending for next year.
“I do support the initiative, but I have to exercise some caution in the long-term spending,” he said.
Coun. Corrie DiManno didn’t discuss or vote on the transit initiative, declaring a pecuniary interest as an employee of BVRTSC. Coun. Peter Poole was absent from the Dec. 9 service review meeting.
No decisions made at service review are final until council passes the operating and capital budgets in mid-January.