Lacombe city council decided it was too soon to begin exploring intra-community transit after choosing to withdraw from BOLT Regional Transit earlier this year.
At their last regular council meeting, council voted 4-3 against looking at options for transit within the city in the form of an expanded Connex system.
Coun. Don Gullekson, who in September put forward the motion that led to Lacombe ultimately choosing to leave BOLT, was behind this motion.
“Over the summer I spent a number of weeks at Farmer’s Markets and community markets in discussion with citizens. There was a need that came through…We need to have a transit system within our community. BOLT wasn’t providing that – BOLT was inter-community transit, which was taking people out of our community,” he said.
“We have Connex, which to me provides a service that is absolutely vital for a number of our citizens…I think it’s critical we continue that service, but as we saw from our (budget) presentations, it’s extremely expensive. I think by expanding the use of Connex and allowing more citizens to ride it and take advantage of those buses will help to reduce the cost per ride.”
At present, the City of Lacombe has three Connex buses, and in the as-of-yet unapproved 2020 Operating Budget, $87,947 has been allocated for bus operation, an increase from $69,587 in 2019. Connex, run through Lacombe and District Family and Community Support Services (FCSS), is designed to give rides to seniors and those who face challenges accessing regular transportation options because of age, cost or disability.
Fares range from $5 for a one-way local trip or $9 round trip, to $15 for a Lacombe County round trip. Connex is also available for $50 round medical trips to Red Deer, and there are special rates for group bookings. The bus runs Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., and on special request on evenings and weekends, with passengers asked to book at least 24 hours in advance.
Eligibility to ride, meanwhile, is at the discretion of the Connex coordinator. Gullekson, however, wanted to see that change so anyone in the community might be able to access Connex through a “dial-a-bus” system as a stop-gap before the city undertakes a transit study en route to implementing a full intra-community transit system.
However, the majority of council disagreed, including Coun. Reuben Konnik, who said they needed to let the city grow before considering the pursuit of transit options within the community.
“My biggest issue with BOLT was it was before its time, really – we weren’t big enough as a community to support it,” he said. “The timing is off here. I think as we build up further to the east and the west and to the north….that would be the time to then explore and intra-community transit system. I think that has merit, but there’s a time and a place for it and I don’t think we’re there yet.”
Councillors Konnik, Cora Hoekstra, Thalia Hibbs and Mayor Grant Creasey voted against, while Gullekson, Ross and Jonathan Jacobson voted in favour.
Creasey said the feedback he’s heard thus far in withdrawing from BOLT and the need for transit within the community has been minimal, though admitted that may change next fall when the service officially ceases to run in Lacombe.
He expects a full transportation study will need to be done in the next five to ten years to assess the community’s needs, but hopes any decision made will be at the behest of citizens in the community.
As for bringing in other transit options such as ridesharing, he said there has been some contact between the city and some services, however, Lacombe isn’t necessarily big enough population wise to necessarily justify such a service being provided in the community.
“Uber, I think, has a population threshold and was not particularly interested in servicing Lacombe at this time, however, there are other services which may be interested and our administration has looked into some of those and I look forward to seeing a report as to what those possibilities are.”
For more information on the Connex bus, visit www.lacombefcss.net/programs-and-services/seniors/lacombe-connex.