City applies for rural transportation funding
The Camrose Community Bus is one of three public transportation programs funded by the City of Camrose on April 13. Josh Aldrich/Camrose Canadian
The City of Camrose has full intentions to take advantage of the recently announced pilot project funding for rural transportation.
City manager Malcolm Boyd submitted two proposals to the province for assist in getting local residents to larger centres – a ride sharing taxi service to get county residents to Camrose and a shuttle service to get residents from Camrose to Edmonton and back three times a day.
As of Tuesday this week, the City had not announced either program being accepted. Camrose was one of six hub communities singled out by the province as candidates for pilot project funding, along with Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, and Athabasca. There is $1 million of operational funding up for grabs with a maximum of $350,000 to any one project.
"Camrose City has over the past few years invested more into it's internal (public transportation) … and we're looking for support from the province to try and help us with the regional piece," said Boyd. "The province, part of their election campaign was around addressing gaps in rural transit and I think they're trying to fulfill that promise."
It is likely Camrose will receive approval for one proposal or the other but not both.
The taxi service will take pre-booked rides from the county and try to line up several clients in one shot with the cost shared between the clients based on how far out from Camrose they are. The coverage area would be roughly a 50 kilometre radius of the city and bookings would be made through an app which would then be organized for maximum efficiency for time and money.
Boyd uses the example of someone from Daysland needing to be in Camrose for a 10 a.m. Saturday appointment, then the taxi can pick up someone from Ohatan who needs to be in the city by 9:30 a.m. along the way.
"It's like collating taxi rides," he said. "The software would compile those taxi requests and try to make economical taxi drives. Instead of somebody paying $50 for a taxi, they would make a pick up here and a pick up here and he would pay $25, he would pay $15, and he pays $10 and they all get to Camrose."
The proposal would cost $144,000 and $120,000 in the second year which would mostly go to the creation of the app and minimal administrative oversight and monitoring. Tablets and aircards would also need to be provided to cab drivers so they can communicate with the app and receive bookings. But the program would also be self sufficient in the long term with no public subsidization.
Boyd said this proposal had wide spread approval from the surrounding communities.
The proposed shuttle service would address potentially the bigger need and that's getting local residents from Camrose to Edmonton for doctors appointments, shopping and other needs. The shuttle would make a trip in the morning around noon and in the afternoon.
Currently those who are unable to drive rely on the kindness of friends and family or groups like Neighbor Aid for transportation to the city for appointments.
This proposal was met with full support from local health and educational organizations.
"Yes some people need to get to Camrose because we're a rural hub … but from the community's perspective, the bigger problem is how do we get to and from Edmonton for those life line services … How do we solve that problem?" said Boyd.
The catch is the price tag. The pilot project would cost $313,000 a year with the vast majority of the money going towards covering the costs of the service. The ticket sales from the first two years would go to covering costs in the third and fourth year in an effort to search for some sustainability.
"The first couple of years gets us rolling and gets our ridership up a bit and we can use some of that money to try and help the program into Year 3," said Boyd. “Ultimately this is never 100 per cent sustainable."
The City currently provides $100,000 to subsidize a taxi token program and another $100,000 for the Camrose Community Bus. Ridership for the bus averages about 200 riders a week with the odd spike to 220 a week. Camrose also provides another $60,000 in funding to support the handivan. The City has tweaked the bus's route over the past year and a half to make it as efficient as possible while connecting with as many possible users to high-demand locations. Boyd says to add more locations or stops on the route would mean adding another bus to the system, which would likely mean another $100,000 a year in funding plus taking into consideration additional depreciation and capital replacement costs.
Camrose has been without a real link to Edmontnon since Greyhound ended their rural service but Boyd says even that service was not convenient as it was a bit of a milk run and would take a long time to get to down town Edmonton. As well it often meant that a return trip was often not possible in the same day.
The shuttle could potentially solve this issue, though at a cost.
Boyd said he had input from all potential community partners in the development of these two programs, and if approved they would be able to be up and running in a timely manner.
"If we are successful in getting funding for either of these it should be operational in six months," he said.