Improvements needed to make bus system an attractive option
If one of the City of Lethbridge's new year's resolutions was to increase use of public transportation, the city has received some help toward that end from the new transportation master plan.
Of course, it will take more than this year to turn around the relatively low ridership on city buses, but the master plan report makes some recommendations that could perk up the use of the Lethbridge Transit system.
According to the story in Wednesday's Herald about the consultants' report, Lethbridge has lower bus service levels than comparable cities in Alberta such as Red Deer, Sherwood Park and St. Albert. Lethbridge Transit's usage level of 25.6 passenger trips per year, per capita also lagged behind Red Deer (at 40.3 trips) and Sherwood Park (36.8 trips).
There's certainly room for improvement in the use of Lethbridge buses. The 2011 Citizen Satisfaction Survey indicated just five per cent of residents rely on public transit while 90 per cent prefer to drive their own vehicles. One of the major reasons for that low ridership figure is convenience. Most residents, if they have an alternative, are not going to settle for long waits, inconvenient bus transfers or lengthy walks in order to use public transportation.
The report notes that route transfers are a major hindrance to the use of public transit, and it recommends improvements to the bus route network aimed at minimizing transfers. The consultants suggest replacing historical bus routes with a new system of three crosstown services that would link with local buses along the way.
Also proposed are two additional direct runs. One would travel from the south end of West Lethbridge via the University of Lethbridge to downtown, then up Mayor Magrath Drive and 23 Street North to the city's north end. The other would ferry passengers from the north end of West Lethbridge through the city centre and south to Lethbridge College and points on the southeastern end of the city.
The report recommends neighbourhood runs to link with mainline routes, and also suggests the addition of more terminals in outer areas of the city as Lethbridge expands in the coming years.
The recommendations contained in the transportation master plan offer some options for city council to consider for the future. Certainly boosting the use of the city's transit system would seem to be an important consideration as Lethbridge grows. It could be a relatively cost-effective way of reducing traffic on heavily used thoroughfares at peak times, provided the bus service is convenient to meet commuters' needs.
Of course, that represents a bit of a Catch-22 situation for the city. At present, ridership levels in Lethbridge might not seem to justify a major overhaul of the transit system, including increasing frequency of bus runs. On the other hand, until those changes are made that will provide a more convenient and useful transit system, ridership won't increase.
Is this a case of "if you build it, they will come"? That's what city council must decide in making future transportation plans.
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