Adopting new devices and software to help track ridership and schedule bus routes is a big priority for Fredericton's new head of transit.
So is the introduction of Sunday service for Fredericton Transit buses, but that will still have to wait a few years, said Charlene Sharpe, who gave her first presentation to city councillors for the first time Thursday since taking up the job three months ago. Sharpe is a former divisional manager with the Toronto Transit Commission.
She laid out a timeline of objectives for Fredericton, with the implementation of new technology to happen from now until early next year, followed by tweaks to the network and other changes such as Sunday service, which likely won't happen until at least 2024.
In her presentation, Sharpe said she reviewed Fredericton's 2019 Transit Master Plan and found a need for technology a common thread in many of the recommendations.
"We are now in 2022 and we need the technology in order to support and attract new ridership and develop these new efficiencies to make our service efficient and convenient for our customers," she said.
Sharpe said some of that would include initiatives the city has already embarked on, including purchasing CCTV cameras for each of its buses to improve passenger and driver safety.
On Monday, councillors voted to award a contact worth $260,077.02 to Dramis Communications Solutions for the installation of CCTV cameras on all of its 28 buses and four para-transit buses.
Other technology Fredericton Transit still needs includes passenger counters on buses in order to gauge ridership and demand for specific routes, she said.
Others include "dynamic scheduling software," which would give staff the flexibility and support for timetable creation, planning, and creating operator work schedules.
Implementing software that allows on-demand service for its para-transit buses is another priority, she said.
She said staff will also be exploring electronic payment methods.
"What technology will give us and provides us is critical data needed to make recommendations for efficient service development and provides a new level of safety and enhanced communication tools for both our staff and our customers," she said.
"Data from these technologies, along with census information, incorporating plans for various initiatives approved for the city, as well as public feedback will provide the information required to make service recommendations to council."
Sharpe said the objective is to have the new technology implemented by the first quarter of 2023.
From there, data will be collected and analyzed in order for staff to make adjustments to the design of the route network in early 2024.
"It'll take into consideration all the data that we've gathered over the previous year so that we can understand cyclical changes, how we support customer travel.
"It [will] also take into consideration census data … city growth indicators and the new considerations through municipal reform."
From there, any planned changes to the network and schedules will be brought forward to council and to the public for feedback and recommendations, she said.
We want to make sure that when we do create Sunday service, it's being done in a cost-effective, efficient manner that works well for everyone. - Charlene Sharpe, Fredericton's manager of transit and parking services
Speaking to CBC New after the meeting, Sharpe said any potential implementation of Sunday service won't happen until 2024, once all of those steps have been taken.
"We recognize that Sunday service has been at the top of everyone's wish list," Sharpe said. "We want to make sure that when we do create Sunday service it's being done in a cost-effective, efficient manner that works well for everyone."
Fredericton Transit users have for years called on the city to introduce Sunday bus service.
The lack of Sunday service has been criticized as far back as since 2013, when the city extended its allowed Sunday shopping hours but didn't expand its bus operations for the staff who need to work on that day.
Coun. Bruce Grandy, the chair of the mobility committee, said he was excited about Sharpe's plan and her timeline for implementing it.
"To have our strategic plan reviewed and a pathway and articulate plan going forward is so refreshing to see," Grandy said.
"And so anybody who asks a question — we now have timelines, we have a plan, but the most important part of this presentation that council needs to understand is the fact that you can't make decisions without proper data."
Coun. Henri Maillet said he also liked the timeline given by Sharpe, adding that it gives the city time to lobby the provincial and federal governments for more financial assistance to support the service.
"Often we'll get emails as council, saying that we're the only capital in the country that doesn't have Sunday service. Well, after a quick search, we're one of the only capitals that doesn't get operational funding from from their province," Maillet said.
"So that would go a long way, so I think that gives us a couple of years so we can continue to advocate to get the proper funding so we can provide the proper service to our constituents."