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Reservation program to be piloted on popular Roam transit regional routes in Banff National Park

“One of those challenges will be too many people wanting to use the bus. I think this gives us a great opportunity to try the reservation system and determine if it is viable for our transit services, primarily our regional type services."
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A customer waits for a ROAM Transit bus nears the Shopper's Drug Mart in Canmore on Tuesday (April 20). EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BOW VALLEY – A one-year pilot program to reserve seats will be used by a pair of popular regional bus routes this summer.

The routes to Johnston Canyon (Route 9) and Lake Louise scenic (Route 8s) will have a reservation system for riders to book their trips in advance between May 21 and Sept. 19.

The locations are popular to visitors hiking, cycling, walking or just enjoying the scenic spots, and with another expected high visitation season ahead of the Bow Valley, it will allow a better framework to have people plan ahead.

“We’ve been looking at the challenges that will come with having the parkway closed to basically everybody except for transit,” said Martin Bean, the chief administrative officer of the Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission (BVRTSC).

“One of those challenges will be too many people wanting to use the bus. I think this gives us a great opportunity to try the reservation system and determine if it is viable for our transit services, primarily our regional-type services. … I think it’s a great opportunity for us to trial a reservation system.”

Reservation systems are not uncommon for transit systems in Canada, but more typical on regional routes that may have lower ridership. However, the reservation system can also aid in helping limit capacity to follow public health restrictions in place due to COVID-19.

The transit system will use Betterez, a Canadian technology company, which will allow riders to select and book each trip in advance to reserve a seat. It will also allow Roam staff to set aside seats to follow public health guidelines.

Bean said there are more details to work out before launching, such as people who have passes and some people possibly transferring.

Staff and Betterez are also working to implement methods for regular customers to use 10 ride/monthly passes, but statistics show it’s not a high use.

While the app will push people to book in advance, 25 per cent of available seats – or nine people – will still be held for last minute travellers. Any no shows who pre-booked will also be released 10 minutes before departure.

A small fee of $2 for people who bring bikes is also being proposed by staff. The intent is to set aside space for cyclists and their bikes, with the aim of having three cyclist spots to help passengers.

“I think this is the perfect route to try it on,” said Davina Bernard, a BVRTSC board director. “It gets us another step down the road since public transit doesn’t necessarily have to be reservable, but some of our routes have excess demand.”

People who want to reserve a spot, but may not have the app, can also do so at the customer service office at 221 Beaver St. in Banff.

“Not only does an online reservation system allow customers the freedom to select when they would like to travel it also frees up our drivers from having to take questions and payments, which can cause buses to become behind schedule,” according to the report.

The pilot program will be examined by staff at the end of the season and return to the transit commission to see if it’s needed in the future.

The Lake Louise Express (Route 8x) fare was raised to $10 last year. The plan will also increase the Johnston Canyon (Route 9) to $5 and Lake Louise Scenic (Route 8s) to $10 this summer.

Bean noted children under 12 will still ride for free, but are still be asked to reserve a spot.

Since the 2021 budget was prepared on last year's rates, it’s expected the increase in fares will cover the reservation system costs.

The startup costs will be about $4,000, with $1,250 going to setup and train staff on the software and $1,000 for each of marketing and staff support. An additional $750 will be needed for hardware costs.

Each reservation also has a fee of $0.25 that is incurred by Roam.

The routes will be the only way for visitors to travel via bus to the locations, as new programs are looking to restrict vehicle traffic and push people towards public transit options.

“The BVRTSC administration anticipates much higher demand for both services,” the report states. “To cater for this expected increase in ridership, BVRTSC administration believe an online reservation system will help ensure a positive customer experience, and a smoother delivery of service.”

Parks Canada announced last month paid parking would be coming to Lake Louise from mid-May to mid-October, which will use a separate reservation system than Roam.

The flat rate is $11.70 per vehicle each day as part of a pilot program. When the Upper Lake Louise parking lot is full, – vehicles will be turned away and not allowed to wait for a spot. There are about 450 parking spots at the lot.

Visitation to the area has boomed in recent years, as 4.1 million people head to Banff National Park each year. However, only 7.2 per cent – or 287,000 people – arrive via mass transit, placing a heavy emphasis on vehicle traffic.

Parks Canada will run a reservation-only shuttle service from the park-and-ride lot east of the hamlet on the Trans-Canada Highway. Roam will have two buses operate the early-bird shuttle to Moraine Lake.

The draft management plan for Banff National Park is also calling for vehicle restrictions at certain times on the roads leading to Moraine Lake to protect wildlife, as well as possibly considering paid parking.

The Minnewanka Loop will also be closed to vehicles from Monday to Thursday May 1 to 20 as part of a pilot for a new cycling initiative.

The Bow Valley Parkway will restrict vehicle traffic this summer, allowing cyclists and pedestrians between the Fireside day use area and Castle Junction.

“I think we’re going to have a lot of people vying for this option,” said Vi Sandford, a BVRTSC board director.

“Last summer when I rode my bike to Johnston Canyon and to Castle Junction, there were a lot of people walking on the road trying to get to Johnston Canyon. There is a huge demand for this. It’s great to meet that demand and a very good way to determine if the reservation system is useful for people and to make it easier for people.”

Correction: The fare for the Lake Louise Express (Route 8x) was incorrectly stated in the original article. It is a $10 fare. The article also incorrectly had a fee for cyclists, but it is only being considered. The Rocky Mountain Outlook apologizes for this mistake.