A consulting firm is proposing the City of Yellowknife restructure transit routes and find ways to incentivize ridership as best ways to improve transit.
Tania Wegwitz from Calgary-based WATT Consulting Group, with a self-proclaimed passion for transit in smaller communities, delivered the firm’s recommendations to council at a committee meeting on Oct. 15.
Comparing Yellowknife to 13 other communities with similar weather, population and transit systems, it was found that the city has a lower than average ridership but also lower costs than other municipalities on average.
They key issues facing the city are its “flat” approach to transit, meaning there is no hierarchy of routes, schedules are too similar, creating a “conga line” of buses picking up passengers at the same time while leaving service gaps in between.
There are also issues of on-time service, especially midday, as identified by transit workers and riders. Also a lack of connections.
“If you don’t address that you run the risk of having a case where your transit system will slowly erode ridership because if nothing else, your system should be safe and on time,” said Wegwitz.
Major suggestions for alleviating transit issues include revising routes so that each line runs on a 60-minute schedule, with overlaps so buses arrives in the most populated parts of town every 30 minutes and reducing trips during non-peak times.
Routes could also rotate, where a route A bus would become a route B bus once completing a route so one bus could make a trip from one end of town to another, eliminating the need for transfers. There would also be a division of routes, making one service Niven exclusively and another for Old Town/Ndilo.
Another proposal includes adjusting routes so that they service only the busiest areas with one route on Franklin running every half hour, and and only one other route servicing everywhere else.
“This option would better match service with demand and is quite straight forward but would be a large disruption from the existing structure,” said Wegwitz.
Wegwitz said she saw opportunities to improve information materials for visitors and residents, including a “rack card,” a two-page pamphlet with key information on important routes and schedules in the city.
In terms of infrastructure, snow removal for transit routes and at specific stops was highlighted as an area that needs improvement as well as more shelters downtown.
Wegwitz suggested the city could tap into federal infrastructure funding to make the improvements.
“Not only does it make it more attractive to take transit and improve the experience of passengers taking the bus, it also signals to everyone, ‘hey, there is a transit system here,'” said Wegwitz.
In terms of fares, the WATT reported suggested there is room to increase transit fares which could be offset by the inclusion of day passes, annual passes, employer discounts, family travel programs and holiday specific passes.
Wegwitz also mentioned furthering fare technology, a point echoed by Coun. Julian Morse who suggested reducing fares to $2 from $3 or introducing an electronic fare card system to make paying for transit easier for passengers.
“Those are the things that would be the most effectively on driving ridership,” said Wegwitz.
Overall, Wegwitz said what has the most impact in terms of changing transit is not what’s happening behind the scenes but allowing the public to weigh in through engagement.
“Transit is unique in that your customers are also your owners,” said Wegwitz. “So what we’ve found is that having them have the opportunity to weigh in on some of these options … they will further shape recommendations.”
She said it would also greatly improve the perception of transit in the community.
“Take the plan to the people, not the reverse.”
Councillors expressed excitement and support for the recommendations, with Coun. Shauna Morgan noting how the city has been working for a long time on how to increase ridership.
Annual ridership numbers remain stuck at about 191,000 per year.
The recommendations will come before council for adoption at a future city council meeting.
Currently, Yellowknife has three routes servicing the city at a cost of $3 per trip.