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    Categories: Local News

Free transit Saturdays boosts ridership

St. Albert Transit has a present for potential riders this holiday weekend: It’s continuing its trial of holiday service and is also continuing to offer free local Saturday transit.

Heritage Day on Monday will be the second statutory holiday this year that transit runs buses, with the first being Family Day in February. Service will follow a Sunday schedule with the addition of two early morning runs into Edmonton at 6:45 and 7:45.

“For people that have to work on Monday, it will be a little easier for them to get to work before 8 a.m.,” said customer service co-ordinator Dawn Fedorvich. “That was one of the comments that we got back from the February trial.”

Sunday service includes dial-a-bus pickup and delivery plus Route 201 to and from Edmonton.

St. Albert Transit added holiday service this year thanks to $11,500 in funding from city council. This will allow service on three holidays this year — Family Day, Heritage Day and Remembrance Day.

Holiday service has been transit’s top priority since a 2008 survey revealed it as the top wish of transit users.

The Family Day service saw 183 people ride transit, for a rate of seven per hour, a bit shy of the department’s target of 10 people per hour.

Free local service on Saturdays

Another ongoing trial that’s continuing this week is free local service on Saturday. It’s an idea that began with a one-month trial in 2009. It continued last summer from June to October, the same schedule as this year.

“We’re trying to offer the free Saturdays as an opportunity for people that aren’t regular transit users to try transit,” Fedorvich said.

“We’re hoping that those people continue to use it, at least occasionally on the weekends, or maybe even try it to go into Edmonton on a commuter trip.”

Last year, the free Saturdays boosted ridership by about 100 people per day, from around 400 to 500. The lost revenue amounted to $3,800, which was moved from the department’s marketing and promotions budget, Fedorvich said.

St. Albert’s transit service is subsidized by the city. The city’s policy is to recover between 40 per cent and 60 per cent of its operating costs through fares. The actual recovery rate was 37 per cent in 2009 and 39 per cent in 2010. This led to a recommended 10 per cent fare increase that council will consider in the fall.

Coun. Malcolm Parker isn’t so sure about transit’s experimentation with low demand or free service. While he feels it’s worthwhile to try out holiday service, he wants to ensure the ridership numbers reach a point where they justify the program’s continuance.

“Seven people per hour doesn’t sound optimistic,” Parker said. “We have to be very careful about that because already we’re subsidizing that bus service by 63 per cent.”

The first-term councillor has advocated for an overhaul of the system if it can’t recover a greater portion of its costs. He’s particularly leery of the free Saturday ridership.

“Why would we offer this free and short-change ourselves … when we’re already in a losing proposition?” he said.

“I guess it’s like anything — if you offer something for nothing, people take advantage of it. Meanwhile somebody’s paying for it and it’s called the taxpayer.”

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