Lethbridge transit riders not happy with new cityLINK system

Click to play video: 'Residents voice concern over revamped transit in Lethbridge' Residents voice concern over revamped transit in Lethbridge
WATCH ABOVE: Last Wednesday, Lethbridge Transit introduced its new cityLINK pilot program—an overhaul of the entire system that includes taking away routes and changing bus times. Eloise Therien speaks with several transit riders who aren’t welcoming the changes – Sep 1, 2021

On Aug. 25, Lethbridge Transit launched its cityLINK transit system — a network redesign that was announced in May — at the direction of city council.

The new model functions using three delivery systems: a high frequency line running through main areas of the city, neighbourhood lines and on-demand lines in areas with no transit service.

While the redesign is only a six-month pilot, it is estimated to create savings of $350,000 per year in the transit department.

Customer concerns

Following the changes, some residents said they have been having a difficult time navigating their new commutes.

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“Overall, I think the old system is just a lot easier for people to understand,” transit user Casey Kellar admitted.

Kellar, who lives in west Lethbridge, said her main concern is the lack of transit stops in residential areas as a result of the overhaul.

“There’s a lot more excessive walking that needs to be done, and a lot more transferring of buses,” she said.

“I’ve heard the goal of cityLINK was to lessen time of transit trips, and from my experience so far, the trips have been extended.”

Read more: Lethbridge Transit introduces new cityLINK network

Kellar also said she worries for those with disabilities and those who are in older age groups, especially as the weather grows colder.

She said many people rely on transit on a daily basis for a variety of reasons, including that owning a car can be too expensive for some.

“To expect people to have to take cabs or walk long distances in the middle of winter in snow and stuff like that, it’s just physically not possible, and it kind of makes people unable to go to work or school, or take their kids to school,” Kellar said.

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Heather Woodruff, who has been using transit as her main mode of transportation for about 20 years, said she was thrown off by the changes.

“It used to be I could transfer to another bus in about five minutes,” she explained. “(Since the changes), I have waited 20 minutes to half an hour to transfer on a bus –two or three times (in the last week).”

Woodruff said she has also been having difficulties navigating the changes through the transit app on her smartphone.

“A lot of the times, the transfer that it promises doesn’t happen,” she said.

“The CityLINK changes are absolutely horrible,” Lethbridge resident Robert Irvine wrote in an email to Global News. “What was once a convenience is now a huge inconvenience, beyond that it’s actually made the system less efficient.”

Lethbridge Transit working out kinks

Tim Sanderson, the general manager of Lethbridge Transit, said the department was expecting to hear some concerns at the onset of the program, especially considering the scale of the changes.

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“Every transit user that used the previous transit system has been affected in some form or fashion,” he said.

With that being said, Sanderson added the department attempted to engage in community outreach and is doing the best it can with large volumes of phone calls to 311.

“We find that once we actually talk to our customers about their specific trip details, in (most cases) we’re able to find them a trip that’s either comparable or better to the trip that they had previously,” he said.

Another concern outlined by riders is the requirement for car seats for the on-demand services, meaning anyone who uses the shuttle will have to carry their child’s seat with them until they return home.

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Masks mandatory on Saskatoon Transit, in city facilities as of Sept. 1 – Aug 31, 2021

Sanderson said this shouldn’t affect a large segment of the population, but his department is willing to hear feedback and work with riders to help find alternatives.

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“When we did the modelling for our on-demand service in our on-demand zones, they only represent two to three per cent of our total ridership systemwide anyways,” he explained.

When it comes to statistics, Sanderson said the numbers are looking up, with an increase in weekday ridership, on-time performance and efficiency.

“The biggest piece is that our transfer rate has reduced by 20 per cent,” he said. “That means (20 per cent) more of our customers now have a one-seat ride on their bus.”

Some changes are being made right away, including schedule changes to the Sherring Station to University Station route on the weekends, and parking requirements at the downtown park-and-ride.

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