Regional public transit between Calgary, Okotoks, and beyond sought by 2015
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If all goes according to plan, the first public transit buses running between Calgary, Okotoks, Nanton, Black Diamond, and Turner Valley could hit highways by next fall, as part of a partnership between all the growing municipalities.
“We’re hoping to get it up and running for September-October 2015,” said Ettore Iannacito, who manages the transit program for the Calgary Regional Partnership (CRP). “But everything has to line up for that to happen. There are so many things that have to be in place.”
The idea of co-ordinated regional transit has been bandied about for years, and the CRP has even come up with a brand – On-It – for the hypothetical service.
Actually getting regional public transit up and running has been “a bit of a struggle” given the relatively low population density of Calgary and the surrounding communities, said Fred Wong, a former director of Calgary Transit.
Growing populations and changing attitudes about transportation, however, have opened a window of opportunity, Wong added.
“I think there’s enough of a critical mass to start service,” he said.
Airdrie has seen success with its own Intercity Express (ICE) bus to Calgary, Wong noted, but the initial uptake was slow and it took a while for people to start using it.
“The simple message is: Don’t give up on the service too quickly,” he said. “It’s a step-wise process and it’s going to take some time.”
The CRP has surveyed residents in the four communities south of Calgary and received “very favourable feedback,” Iannacito said, with more than half of respondents saying they’d be “somewhat likely” to use regional transit.
Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson, who also serves as the current CRP chair, said the initial, pilot project would be funded by provincial GreenTRIP grants and if it’s successful, he expects his town council would support financially backing a permanent system.
“If it appears to be viable and economically sound, then we would go for it,” Robertson said. “We certainly need transit in the region.”
The CRP is also working on longer-term plans with the Town of Chestermere to provide bus service for residents to both Strathmore and Calgary, Iannacito said.
“They’re going to be looking very, very carefully at how everything works out with those four communities (south of Calgary),” he said.
Chris Jordan, manager of strategic planning for Calgary Transit, said the city worked with Airdrie in finding stops for its ICE bus that connect well with its own service and continues to work with “all the surrounding municipalities” on regional transit.
“Our role will be to enable them to stop at our stations to support their future investments, to make sure we’re capitalizing on the effectiveness of the LRT and bus-rapid transit system as a backbone for regional travel,” he said.