City of Powell River is looking at the prospect of a pilot project to operate an on-demand bus service.
At the May 14 city council meeting, sustainability planner Ana Lukyanova introduced the concept, which would offer a modified bus service in the evening for regular passengers and those with mobility issues.
In a report to council, Lukyanova stated that while fixed-route transit attempts to predict what trips users want to make and set a schedule based on assumptions, on-demand transit uses actual data from users requesting trips and creates a route in real time based on the input.
She stated that for on-demand service, trip requests are made via smartphone or phone. On-demand software automatically receives and instantly processes those requests to create a route that picks up and delivers all passengers to their destinations in the shortest time possible. She stated that drivers simply follow directions from their onboard GPS unit powered by the on-demand software.
“Riders have a simple, user-friendly experience similar to using apps such as Uber or Lyft, but the rides are shared with multiple people on board the bus at the same time to dramatically improve efficiency and reduce cost per ride provided,” stated Lukyanova.
Staff discovered the opportunity for Powell River to take advantage of the $200,000 federal Built in Canada Innovation Program funding to operate a pilot program and wanted to proceed with further investigation.
In an interview, Lukyanova said other small cities have been succeeding with on-demand busing programs and grant funders were able to determine this would be a good city to run a pilot project in.
BC Transit declined to be involved so a bus would have to be procured to operate the pilot project. Lukyanova said federal program funders have been generous and willing to fund not only the technology to run the program, but also the lease for a bus for its duration. The bus would be wheelchair-accessible, as well as being able to accommodate regular passengers. The type of bus required to operate locally is already in use in an on-demand program in Ashland, Oregon.
“The idea is the bus combines handyDART-type service with a service for regular riders,” said Lukyanova. “We have heard other communities reporting positively on that and how nice it is to have a bus for everyone as opposed to having people with disabilities in one service and having a completely separate vehicle for regular riders.”
Lukyanova said the service could be set up so people with disabilities could be served door-to-door and at the same time provide bus-stop-to-bus-stop service for regular riders.
“The reason for that is it would be nice to drive people door-to-door but that limits how quickly you can get people around,” she added. “If we have regular riders who are quite capable of taking a short walk, then we can accommodate them at bus stops, while at the same time offering a more door-to-door service for people with disabilities that need it.”
Lukyanova said the on-demand bus service is not a taxi service; it is a bus service with special capabilities.
She said direction has been given by council to continue dealing with Spare Labs, the company that provides the technology and receives the federal funding. She said the COVID-19 pandemic has an effect on when the best time to pilot the project would be.
Looking at other similar projects, Lukyanova said they typically have good ridership.
“Staff is really excited because we are seeing that it has seen great uptake in the communities where they’ve tried it,” said Lukyanova. “They are seeing increased transit ridership, which is what we hope to see for our sustainability goals, in reducing emissions and giving people other options to get around the community other than the personal vehicle.”
In the presentation Lukyanova made to city council, the proposal was to run the service from 5 pm until late. She said more work needs to be done to determine how late to shut down the service.
“From a scheduling and budget perspective, we would have to have an end time,” added Lukyanova. “We can’t afford to run the bus all night.”
She said the length of the pilot project would be dependent on how many hours a day the service would run, but the intention would be to run a one- to two-year pilot to provide a sufficient amount of time for people to become aware of the service, and for it to have a sufficient duration for assessment.
Lukyanova said if people in Powell River have any input they’d like to direct to the process, they can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.