As Regina grows, the city is looking to grow its transit service as well.
The recently-approved 2016 budget will see more buses, more routes, expanded routes and additional days transit will be offered.
“We need a transit system that works for people. I don’t expect anyone to take the bus out of benevolence, I think people ride the bus because it’s their best option and if we make a better option that’s when we’ll see more people take the bus,” explained Ward 3 Councillor Shawn Fraser, who has been an advocate of the city’s transit system.
During Monday’s night budget meeting, Fraser raised a motion for transit service to be expanded on an ongoing basis to include five more holidays: Victoria Day, Canada Day, Saskatchewan Day, Labour Day, and Thanksgiving.
The program had previously been tested out in 2015 and saw an average of 3,200 people ride the bus on each of those holiday days. Council approved the request, which will cost $114,300 a year, although that will be offset by roughly $23,500 in revenue.
With the changes, Christmas and New Year’s Day will be the only days of the year where bus service is not offered.
A universal bus pass for students attending the University of Regina was previously agreed to by the city and formally passed as part of the budget. Five new buses will be purchased at a cost of $2.75 million to help roll out the program.
“A good transit system is really about moving traffic. It’s not just for the people who take the bus, it’s making sure that we don’t have traffic congestion across the city and we need a plan in place and to put the right investment in place to make that sure people can get around,” said Fraser.
He hopes the U-Pass will help get more young people downtown and instill in students the benefits of taking public transit.
City administration was also asked to prepare a report to look at the feasibility of expanding bus service in 2017 to three new neighbourhoods: Fairways West, Edgewater, and Westhill.
The move to improving service is part of an ongoing shift in the way people move around in Regina.
“I think if you look at our stats over the last four or five years, definitely transit has grown to previous decades and previous chunks of time equal to that,” said Brad Bells, the city’s director of transit.
He estimated in 2015 there were about 6.5 million rides on buses. That’s a slight decline in ridership from 2014 figures, when 6.6 million rides were given.
Bells noted the bus doesn’t just have to be for commuting to work and school, as many people utilize the service when going to Agribition or Saskatchewan Roughrider games.
“We see a large number of people just starting to understand that you don’t always have to take your car … there’s better ways to get in and out of sporting events and other events,” he explained.
He can’t offer any hard numbers, but Bells said immigrants and many new people to the city are also taking advantage, especially in the winter. And while bus fees are going up by $0.25 per ride in 2016 – from $2.75 to $3.00 – Bells still calls the service affordable.
A lot of work has been done to this point, Fraser said, but he insisted more work can still be done to make the city a model for transit service.
“If people think that overnight Regina is going to end up with a transit system like bigger cities have that’s maybe not realistic, but there’s certainly lots of low hanging fruit, improvements we can make to make sure we have the best transit system possible.”