Southland Transportation eyes regional transit expansion with acquisition of On-It
Thursday, Feb 08, 2018 06:00 am
Cochranites should anticipate expanded regional transit services connecting Cochrane to Calgary later this year.
Southland Transportation and the Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP) announced this week that Southland will assume ownership and management of the On-It regional transit system effective Feb. 28.
“The synergies came together … it was always our plan to re-launch commuter services from Cochrane to Calgary in 2018,” said Jonathan Weal, regional director of Southland, noting the catchiness of the On-It green and white branding and how well the timing works with Southland’s plans to revamp the local commuter network.
Weal said Southland currently has three commuters running roundtrip from Cochrane to downtown Calgary and through surveys being launched this week the company is looking to field Cochranites for feedback as to how they would like to see the services expanded.
Stops at the University of Calgary or Crowfoot? Later morning routes? Links to the Calgary transit network?
“Everything is on the table … it’s definitely our wish to increase the number of services,” said Weal.
While some 100 commuters board the Southland commuters right now, expanded services will likely service a broader demographic, including students.
“I’m really happy, as I would have been disappointed to see the brand lost and for the region to lose this system that was in its infancy … not having a regional link would be a step backwards for us,” said Mayor Jeff Genung, who thinks added service that would take students to and from the university could serve a growing need for Cochranites.
Genung maintains that some type of local transit network will be a must for Cochrane to become a “smart city” (technologically advanced and sustainable).
He looks forward to investigating what that network could look like and how the traditional model might transform into something more cost-effective and efficient.
Weal said Southland will also investigate options to transport commuters who travel from Calgary to Cochrane, with estimates of roughly 2,000 cars coming into Cochrane for work each day.
The CRP was a voluntary network of 11 municipalities in the Calgary region that have collaborated since 2004. The network sought synergetic relationships that included planning such as target densities and transit, with roots in sustainable initiatives.
The CRP is currently disbanding with the Calgary Metropolitan Growth Management Board, as mandated, coming online. The new board came out with its mandate late last month, and transit was not included. This resulted in the decision to find a new owner/operator to continue the regional bus service.
“Regional transit is critical to the economic development of the Calgary Region,” said CRP executive director Colleen Shepherd in a recent press release.
“This was demonstrated by Amazon requesting all applicants provide regional transit system information as part of the HQ2 bid. Southland was the logical successor to CRP given they operate the current On-It buses and are Western Canada’s leading transportation provider.”
Southland has been the contracted operator for the On-It regional transit network that services south municipalities including Okotoks, Turner Valley and Black Diamond by connecting them to south Calgary.
This is currently the only operational regional On-It network, which began in the fall of 2016 and was reported to have lower-than-expected ridership numbers.
The program was investigating expansion to Cochrane-Calgary or Strathmore-Chestermere networks.
Last summer, a pilot route was launched to support regional tourism as part of Canada 150 celebrations and was hailed as a success - connecting Calgary through Cochrane to Canmore and Banff.
Weal did say they were “disappointed” with the usage coming out of Cochrane, with only a handful of people at most taking the tour to and from Banff. The vast majority of the 12,000 users carted through the network last summer boarded in Calgary.
Weal said Southland hopes to work with Parks Canada and respective municipalities to extend the pilot this year.
Southland is one of the biggest employers in Cochrane with 170 employees.
Weal said an expanded local commuter network would lead to further employment opportunities, as will their planned relocation to a new and expanded site as Southland has outgrown their Griffin Road Cochrane location.
All Southland commuter buses will assume the On-It branding. There was no exchange of dollars for the deal.
To share your thoughts with Southland as to how you would like to see a commuter service shape up in the coming years, fill out the survey available at bit.ly/2018commuter.