Transportation Minister James Aylward promises continued investment in the rural transit pilot project to keep ticket prices low and strengthen the service - even as fuel prices drive up running costs.
The province’s contract with Island Transit has not been finalized but the minister says following the impressive uptake in ridership through the pilot, Islanders can expect the contract to look similar to those between PEI Road Builders and the Department of Transportation.
“There are allowances for fluctuations in fuel prices that we calculate in,” Mr Aylward said.
He expects the cost will run up to a maximum of $2.2 million this fiscal year.
The minister is intent on growing and strengthening the service moving forward.
“In the near future we’re going to be looking at putting four larger new buses into the fleet. And each one will be fully accessible,” he said.
Island Transit only has one wheelchair accessible bus running the rural routes now. When someone relying on a wheelchair books a ride, Island Transit crews ensure the wheelchair accessible bus heads in their direction, according to the minister. But he wants to make sure logistics issues don’t arise by deploying accessible bus on each major route: Charlottetown to Montague, Souris, Summerside and farther west.
The department is also arranging to offer rides between smaller Kings County communities into the main bus lines (Montague/Georgetown and Souris) by partnering with non-profit, Transportation East.
The latest bus from Montague to Charlottetown currently leaves at 3:19 pm. This makes public transport impractical for 9 am to 5 pm commuters looking to get back to Charlottetown. The minister says this is because route schedules east of Charlottetown initially targeted Holland College’s Georgetown campus students and students at the UPEI Climate Research Lab in St. Peter’s which opened this spring. Island transit suspected these students would be the most likely demographic to use the service.
“As we’re seeing and receiving more feedback from riders, or potential riders, we’re going to continue to do an evaluation on the offering,” Mr Aylward said.
“It is a learning curve for us but it is also a learning curve for our users.”
He acknowledged it can be a major adjustment for Islanders to transition from car culture to relying on public transportation but it’s an adjustment he is determined to facilitate.
Since launching in October, the project has already adjusted. Island Transit swapped the original bus running between Souris and Charlottetown for a larger vehicle to accommodate higher-than-expected use this spring. A total of 3,376 one-way tickets were used to and from Souris since October 2021. That’s an average of 23 per day but the daily average from April through May 13 spiked to hit 50 one-way trips per day.
Ridership volumes called for adjustment in Summerside too. A ghost bus was added as a solution to higher demand than expected. The ghost bus picks up passengers when the regular vehicle reaches its capacity through the booking system. A total of 8,180 one-way tickets were used on this route since October. That’s an average of 55 per day.
Two routes, one from Charlottetown and one from Summerside toward the north shore have been added into the schedule to support tourist operators and summer staff - often a student demographic - connect.
The minister encourages Islanders to provide feedback by emailing email@example.com
Rachel Collier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Graphic