The City of Yellowknife is set to go ahead with a plan to re-route its transit buses and look at the possibility of expanding service to Kam Lake.
Consultants presented several options to councillors on Monday, hoping to make Yellowknife's bus service more efficient and more frequent. From those options, council told city administrators to explore switching from three routes to two – designed to increase bus frequency during peak times and get people from one end of town to the other without switching buses.
Councillor Cynthia Mufandaedza said she wants to see transit expanded to Kam Lake, either as an on-demand service or a scheduled run during peak hours. "I drive in and out of Kam Lake every day, and I see people walking to work every morning," she said. Services to Kam Lake and the airport appeared as longer-term suggestions in the consultants' report.
Use of the Yellowknife Accessible Transit service, or YATS – which provides rides for those who cannot ride the city bus due to disability – has been increasing over the past 10 years. Consultant Tania Wegwitz said ridership on city buses, by comparison, has "flatlined" since a 2014 restructuring of the transit system that saw a spike in ridership.
Yellowknife sees an average of 15 people on buses for every hour that transit service is on the road. While the ridership is relatively good, Wegwitz said, the city charges lower costs than other cities.
Still, the city is recovering 30 percent of the system's cost, which Wegwitz said is "about where you want to be."
Elsewhere, some municipalities are trying free transit to boost numbers. Other, smaller communities are experimenting with on-demand services, even powered by Uber in some instances. Wegwitz gave the example of Innisfail, Alberta, which uses Uber requests to coordinate a bus service.
In Yellowknife, a fairly compact city where most people live along a linear transit path, the consultant said a similar on-demand service would result in overlapping rides and be costlier. However, Wegwitz said, it might make sense in specific neighbourhoods like Niven or Kam Lake.
The consultant also recommended encouraging more riders by improving snow removal at transit stops and making buses more visitor-friendly, including the introduction of day passes. Putting up a bus shelter – for example at the city's most heavily used stop, outside the YK Centre mall – could also help signal to visitors that a bus service is available.
The option councillors most favoured, shown above in a map produced by Watt Consulting, has two routes as opposed to the three currently running.
While Wegwitz argued public consultation would smooth the transition for any changes the transit system will see, Councillor Shauna Morgan questioned whether further consultation was worth it. The city is "consulted out," added Councillor Niels Konge.
Instead, city administration will now work with the consultants on putting together a new public transit route plan.