West Royalty resident Helen Young takes a morning T3 Transit bus to get to her job at the Charlottetown Walmart, but has to walk home from work on weekdays because service to her neighbourhood ends too early in the evening.
And she's having anxiety about that, with colder weather just a few months away.
"It scares me because you never know what winter is going to bring," she said.
Route 2, which she uses, and Route 3 are two of T3 Transit's main routes. These buses run in residential areas outside downtown Charlottetown until 6:45 p.m. during the week and on Saturdays, and they don't run at all on Sundays.
"They really need to expand the hours. They need to pick it up to help the residents," Young said. "I've never in my life heard of a city — a capital in a province that houses a university and a college — having such an ill bus system."
Young is not alone. UPEI student Mohamed Ateeq, who lived along Route 2 last semester, recalls having to walk home in the rain because the bus doesn't run into the evening hours.
"It is not something that any student should be put through, especially when we do pay for our student passes for the bus. I think we deserve to have the buses accessible to us," he said.
Rider usage data to be collected
T3 Transit's owner said he's heard similar concerns in the past.
So Mike Cassidy's staff will be surveying customers in Charlottetown next month to gauge demand on all the service's routes before presenting the data to the city and seeking funding to extend T3's hours.
"Route 2 and Route 3 have never had evening service. That has to be considered," Cassidy said.
He said in order to boost service hours for Routes 2 and 3, he needs to present the city with poll results about whether customers would use the bus after 7 p.m.
"We try to hit a goal of approximately 15 to 20 passenger fares per service hour in those evening hours," he said.
Cassidy said he's considering two options. One would be a fixed bus route into the evening hours, perhaps using a smaller vehicle. The other would be a concept called mobility-on-demand, with riders living near routes 2 and 3 booking the bus and T3 Transit setting a schedule for pickups and drop-offs.
"I would like to know, where are the needs? What do we have to do? Is it a fixed route Is it a mobility-on-demand?" he said. "But it's great that our customers are saying that there is a need and we are seeing the need throughout the system."
In an email to CBC News, the City of Charlottetown said it will be increasing funding for public transit this fall to better support the growing demand.
The city said it will work with T3 Transit and make decisions based on the rider usage data the company is collecting.
Mental health and housing impacts
Young and Ateeq would like to see improvements as soon as possible, saying the restricted bus hours are affecting their lives.
Young said being homebound on weekday evenings and on Sundays is not good for her mental health.
I can get to work. I can't get home. I can't get to the library. I can't get to the grocery store. - Helen Young
"I can get to work. I can't get home. I can't get to the library. I can't get to the grocery store," she said.
"The mental health aspect of it is huge."
Ateeq said many students have evening classes, or work part-time, or need to shop for groceries in the evening. Since many of them don't have vehicles, living anywhere outside the downtown core means they have to rely on the bus.
"As an international student, it's quite difficult to handle all of that without the public transit being available," he said.
Ateeq recently found a place on Grafton Street, so he moved in order to be able to use the Route 1 bus, which has longer service hours, including Saturday nights and Sundays, and takes him straight from the downtown to UPEI.
He has friends who couldn't find housing along Route 1, so they went with more-affordable options in neighbourhoods outside the downtown core, only to find buses were less frequent.
"A lot of international students would choose to live in these areas if the bus was more accessible," he said.