Municipalities across the country are turning to Kingston for public transit advice after the eastern Ontario city claimed the fastest-growing ridership numbers in Canada.
Five years ago, Kingston transformed its transit system by adding more frequent service and express routes between key stops. Now, towns such as Guelph, Ont., and Halifax, N.S., are asking the city for help on how to modernize their own transit systems.
"You have to have a service that people can rely on," said Sheila Kidd, Kingston's deputy commissioner of transit services.
"The first thing we did was redesign the routes and the schedule so the routes were very competitive," Kidd said. "We introduced trip planning technology ... [with] real time arrival information."
The city's transit system logged four million rides in 2014, five million in 2016 and more than six million in 2017 — a 50 per cent increase in a a span of just four years, and nearly double the count in 2013, when the relaunch was born.
Prior to the revamp, it sometimes seemed like the city didn't even have a transit system, Kidd said. The buses would meander through neighbourhoods and there were no sufficient express routes.
"[Our previous service] was a service that served a few members of our community," Kidd told CBC Radio's Ontario Morning.
The city attributes that success to the launch of express routes, real-time bus arrival and trip information, extended Sunday and holiday service, free transit for children younger than 14 and improved fare options for commuters.
Advice for other cities
Kidd said one of the challenges was overcoming the bias some residents had about riding public transit, which was once known for its unreliability, long routes and infrequency.
In response, she said, the city introduced a newer fleet of buses, focused on customer service and created park-and-rides along the express routes to popular work destinations including the city's core.
"Smaller communities often try to make the service something for everyone, [but] you need to design the system to service a large number of people and [then] start to build the momentum," Kidd said.