COLT bus stop improvements taking place this summer

The large transit hub project in the south downtown is set to feature a partially enclosed or roof-only space for riders waiting outdoors, plus a warm, fully-enclosed waiting area within the actual building. Patrick Gibson/Cochrane Times jpg, CT

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While the town’s new COLT (Cochrane On-Demand Local Transit) is based on the Uber-style premise of hailing a ride from one place to another on a computer or through an app, the classic ‘bus stop’ is still a central element of the service.

If COLT drivers were to come right to the user’s door, it wouldn’t make for a particularly cost-efficient public service. Instead, bus stops have been strategically positioned throughout town, no further than four hundred metres from any residence.

There were 152 stops when the service launched. Nine months later, it’s now down slightly to 145.

“Some were redundant,” transit coordinator Devin LaFleche explained.

“We’re really focused on having the bus stops be flexible. We could adjust them based on demand, whether they were safe, feedback we got from residents and drivers, and we’ve been adjusting a little bit but now we’re really going to focus on upgrading bus stops based on the demand they’re already seeing and looking at that local-regional integration.”

To fund bus stop improvements this summer, the town will pull from the same funding pool they’ve used throughout the COLT project: the joint provincial/federal GreenTRIP initiative, providing grants to municipalities looking to introduce or do a major overhaul of a public transit project.

“What we’d look at doing, to get more revenue when we have this GreenTRIP funding, is to place the pads, the concrete pads for the bus infrastructure […] and also install the poles and the signage,” LaFleche explained to council during a council presentation late last month.

As far as shelters at regular stops, like those small glass enclosures in the city with seating for two, those are currently off the table. With initial costs, plus cleaning and inevitable broken glass, they’re actually pretty expensive: the COLT team has them priced around $75,000.

“We’d have to work with our roads or parks department on that, on how they’re maintained, or we’d have to forfeit some of the revenue on our infrastructure provider to be maintaining those,” he added.

“We are looking at shelters but they are costly, so first, we’re going to focus on the basic amenities.”

In contrast to Calgary Transit users, LaFleche said the idea with the COLT system is that riders will be alerted to the arrival of their bus by phone or computer, negating the need to wait outside in a shelter.

“It will be tied to the app, so you’ll be able to see where your bus is. The expectation is you’ll know where the bus is and you won’t actually have to be out there waiting in the cold, ‘Did I miss it?’, ‘Did I not?’.”

“It also sends text messages if you don’t have data.”

One alternative being considered by the COLT team is to solicit a third-party firm to come in and provide the bus stop infrastructure while receiving all advertising revenue from the stops (like realtor ads on bus benches).

“Anytime you can get someone else to pay for a piece of infrastructure, that’s a good news story,” said mayor Jeff Genung of the proposed alternative.

An RFP on the matter closed July 15th, and the town is now taking a look at those proposals.

Whatever happens, there is one spot where the town intends to place an outdoor shelter: the downtown transit hub, to be constructed on one of the vacant town-owned lots along Railway Street.

“Not so much a full enclosure, but something more structural,” said LaFleche of plans for a shelter at the transit hub, home to both local and upcoming regional COLT services.

“The architect’s been drafting something up that ties into the transit hub however it looks, that it actually looks like it’s a part of the building.  It would likely be a three-sided wind barrier, slash cover overhead.”

Plans don’t call for a full enclosure because plans for the lobby of the massive transit hub building do instead.

“We’re looking at having a lobby space where people can wait inside the transit hub to wait for their bus, rather than be waiting outside and they’ll be safe and secure in that transit hub.”

The transit coordinator offered a similar explanation for no enclosures at seniors’ home stops as well.

“For the seniors we’ve actually gone to the door of all the facilities, because we’d like them to just wait inside,” he said.

“They do have benches for most of the spaces when it is warm out, but we could look at maybe some shelters for those. It also could be lower risk of vandalism, being so close to the facility versus one that we put in a rural spot or a less-observed spot.”

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