Ottawa transit: On-demand transit to hit roads in Blackburn Hamlet this fall

OC Transpo will test drive on-demand transit in Blackburn Hamlet this fall, allowing riders to book a trip on a Para Transpo minibus on weekends in the east Ottawa neighbourhood.

An on-demand transit pilot project is one of the 22 strategic initiatives in the Transit Services five-year roadmap, and comes as OC Transpo looks to address declining ridership and revenue coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The transit service is projecting a $51 million fare revenue shortfall for 2023 and a $35 million revenue deficit in 2024.

A report for the Transit Commission says staff have picked Blackburn Hamlet as the preferred zone for the pilot project, with on-demand service replacing Route 28 on weekends and providing connections to Blair Station.

All on-demand trips would start and end within the service zone of Blackburn Hamlet or at Blair Station.

“The demonstration pilot project is intended to show and test how on-demand service would work as an integrated part of the OC Transpo network, ideally providing shorter waiting times and shorter travel times for customers, at a lower operating cost, in an area of the city with lower ridership,” staff say in the report for the Sept. 14 Transit Commission meeting.

“In order to make use of the current fleet of minibuses, the pilot project would operate on weekends only.”

The on-demand transit pilot project would allow customers travelling to, from or within the on-demand service zone to book a trip through a smartphone app, online or by calling OC Transpo’s customer service centre. The customer would receive confirmation of their pick-up time window and location, which would be their nearest bus stop, and would pay their fare when boarding the bus.

“All booked trips would start/end within the service zone or at Blair Station,” says the report. “The bus will make regular and scheduled stops at Blair Station for customers starting their journey there.”

OC Transpo is proposing launching an on-demand transit pilot project in Blackburn Hamlet this fall. Customers can book a trip to travel to, from or within the Blackburn Hamlet zone. (City of Ottawa report)

Staff say there would be “no net increase to operating costs” for the on-demand pilot project, with the operating cost of the Para Transpo buses offset by savings from not operating a conventional bus on Route 28 on weekends.  Staff say the software and support services for the pilot project are being provided by the supplier, Pantomium, who received a grant from the federal government.

The report says on-demand transit can potentially bring several benefits to the transit system, including:

  • Increased ridership in areas with low transit usage by providing shorter waiting times or shorter travel times
  • Increased operational efficiencies by using smaller minibuses
  • Improved service reliability by providing direct routes and connections to transit hubs

Staff say several Canadian transit systems are using on-demand service, “particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and particularly in lower-ridership areas or at lower-ridership times of the week.”

The report does not provide a specific date for the launch of on-demand transit in Blackburn Hamlet, nor any details on the hours of operation for the service or how many buses will be operating at one time.

Route 28 would continue to operate Monday to Friday, and Route 25 on Innes Road will continue to run seven days a week.

“As with all parts of the OC Transpo system, on-demand service performance will be monitored, and the results of this pilot project will help inform future decisions with regards to possible on-demand expansion into other areas,” staff said. “If in the future a decision is taken to end on-demand service in this area, staff would reinstate the current Route 28 weekend service.”

The on-demand pilot project would begin this fall, and further expansion of the project could begin next year. Staff say that if OC Transpo and council want to expand on-demand service to other neighbourhoods or beyond the limited pilot on weekends in Blackburn Hamlet, the city would need to buy additional minibuses.

A separate report for the Transit Commission meeting on Sept. 14 recommends the city buy 51 additional minibuses, including 10 for on-demand service beyond the pilot project.  The 51 mini buses would cost $17.2 million, with a $3.5 million price tag for the 10 buses set aside for on-demand service.

“Any future minibuses purchased for on-demand service would be identical to the minibuses purchased for Para Transpo service, to allow them to be used interchangeably in both types of service,” staff said.



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