A pilot project designed to connect the communities of Okotoks, High River, Black Diamond and Turner Valley to the city of Calgary using regional bus transit is likely to come to an end in March, roughly five months ahead of schedule.
On-It Regional Transit, a project of the Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP), is not expected to survive a vote to determine its future by the group’s board on Feb. 2.
“It’s likely to wind down, but until that vote there’s nothing definite,” said Bill Robertson, mayor of the town of Okotoks and chair of the partnership.
The CRP is itself set to wind down operations early this year. The volunteer organization is being supplanted by a new, provincially-mandated growth management board which will take on some of the activities the CRP looked after. However, regional transit is not likely to be part of its operations.
“Perhaps there’s some reluctance on the part of the growth management board to take that on,” Robertson said. “Because of that, that’s one of the reasons.”
On-It was announced with much fanfare in the fall of 2016 as a two-year pilot project to connect the communities south of Calgary with the city, operating during peak commuter hours on weekdays. The CRP had aspirations to — in time — run the service all day long and expand to more communities.
In the summer of 2017, On-It launched a second pilot program with the towns of Canmore and Banff to provide a shuttle service from Calgary to the resort communities.
The service proved popular with mountain visitors, said On-It manager Ettore Iannacito, and there’s a possibility it could continue. However, it most likely won’t be the Calgary Regional Partnership which will provide the service.
“I know that three stakeholders (Canmore, Banff and Parks Canada) are very interested in having some sort of service continuation,” Iannacito said. “So much so that I believe they’ve budgeted some money to put toward the operations of that service.
“It’s a matter of who’s going to deliver that service.”
Despite the likelihood of On-It’s imminent and early demise, Robertson felt the pilot project had been a success.
The success of the pilot is echoed by the mayor of another CRP community.
“I think the pilot itself worked great,” High River mayor Craig Snodgrass said. “It gave us the education and the real data we need to make future decisions on public transit.”
Earlier in January, High River town council voted to terminate its participation in the On-It pilot in March. Snodgrass said roughly four to six people used the service, adding it was unlikely residents of the community would warm to a scheduled commuter bus service anytime soon.
“Now we’ve got something in our hands to say, look, we did a pilot project. It didn’t work. It showed there wasn’t the demand, there wasn’t the need for it.
“So, let’s move on to more important things that we can actually take care of.”
Back in Okotoks, Robertson said his community is still keen to explore transit options, despite On-It’s likely fate.
“Okotoks residents want a transit system internally and to the city of Calgary, but I certainly respect other municipal politicians making the best decisions for their communities.”
With files from Melissa Gilligan