Creasey: On being responsible fiscal stewards

City of Lacombe Mayor Grant Creasey. Photo supplied

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Recently, council made the difficult decision to cancel the BOLT regional transit service in Lacombe after five years of operation.

Council recognizes and regrets that this decision will negatively impact some of our residents, as well as some citizens living in the Town of Blackfalds, our regional partner.

These factors were given significant weight during our deliberations on this issue. For those who relied on this service, we are able to provide plenty of advance notice so that we can meet our commitments over the next 12 months before BOLT ceases operations in Lacombe.

The decision to cancel BOLT was made after significant efforts by both communities to raise ridership and increase the viability of the transit service. Council appreciates the substantial public input received on this matter; unfortunately, the service was well below the operating standard for municipal services in the City of Lacombe, as well as those of other transit services in the province.

In order to remain responsible stewards of taxpayers’ money, council constantly reviews municipal services to ensure that we spend tax dollars effectively. Over the past five years, the City worked diligently with our transit partners to grow the service in an attempt to improve ridership. Despite efforts that yielded both a U-Pass agreement with Burman University and a successful advertising partnership with Reid Signs, council could not justify spending over $200,000 per year on a service that had ridership numbers orders of magnitude lower than that of healthy, well-used transit systems. This, combined with unattainable scheduling expectations, resulted in regular occurrences of buses driving through the community with very few, or even no riders.

The City of Lacombe partnered with the Town of Blackfalds and Red Deer Transit to launch the inter-city service in August 2014. Two buses were secured with capital funding of $900,000: $600,000 was contributed by the City of Red Deer through the provincial Green Transit Incentives Program, and the remaining $300,000 funded by Lacombe and Blackfalds. The service was cost-shared by Lacombe and Blackfalds, with Red Deer Transit operating the service.

The cancellation comes at a time that sees widespread decline in bus ridership throughout North America, not just in Alberta. The causes of this are unclear, but theories suggest that the growing popularity of ridehailing services and increased vehicle ownership are factors.

Council appreciates the many points of view that were expressed throughout this process. Moving forward, we may examine other types of public transit service in Lacombe, perhaps an intra-city model, if public demand can sustain such a service.

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