For people who live in Okotoks, there is such a thing as a free ride.
The new On-It regional transit, which will start offering free rides in the Foothills region beginning January 6, will operate for free two days a week. It’s a way of introducing the service to Okotoks homeowners who commute to Calgary and other areas in the MD of Foothills.
Riders can check out the service at no charge on Mondays and Fridays. A no-strings-attached way of seeing how comfortable and convenient this new service can be.
The fares for the service depends on the destination. Okotoks to Calgary is $6 each way or $155 a month unlimited rides. Black Diamond, Turner Valley or High River to Calgary is $8 one way or $170 a month unlimited rides.
The On-It Regional bus service will ultimately make it easier for people employed in Calgary to consider purchasing a new home in Okotoks or surrounding areas knowing that getting into Calgary is that much easier. It may also bring further economic opportunities in regards to employment.
The mayor of Okotoks, Bill Robertson, told the Okotoks Western Wheel that the original plan was to offer at least one free day a week in the first month or so to help new riders become familiar with the various routes to and from Calgary however further discussions among some of the principals in the Calgary Regional Partnership soon increased the free-fare plan to two times a week in January.
The mayor is also the chairman of the regional partnership and he said this program will give people as many as eight free trips to encourage perpetual ridership going forward.
The transit service started in late fall and currently there are in average a dozen people taking the bus to the Somerset Bridlewood LRT station in the south end of Calgary. That number is on target with the regional partnership’s expectations for the first 60 days of the pilot program, however there is room for 55 people on each bus. There is funding for the program for 24 months and when the pilot is over, ridership and feasibility will be assessed.
In addition to free fares on Mondays and Fridays, a new payment system is being adopted by the On-It system. Soon riders can use a tap card when they get on the bus, eliminating the need for a paper ticket in their hand. This convenience is especially good for infrequent riders – people who live in Okotoks and prefer to drive but may want to take transit when weather has made the roads less accessible or if their vehicle is out of commission temporarily.
A long-time coming
Discussions of public transit from communities in the Foothills district have been ongoing for several years. The regional partnership felt that attitudes towards public transit have changed in recent years especially since mass transit is now regarded as being better for the environment. With more people willing to jump on a bus, it was the right time to get onboard a pilot program to get people into the city whether it’s to work or attend university.
The provincial government is the primary funder for the On-It transit service. Come late 2018 it will be up to the Regional Partnership to keep the wheels on the bus going around. Mayor Robertson said that as the months go by, the transit committee will brainstorm ways to make the service sustainable without undue tax burden for the residents of Okotoks and the Foothills region.
Should the On-It public transit service become viable, the proposed LRT Station in Seton would be an alternate destination for passenger drop off.
The regional partnership will also consider future partnerships with surrounding rural municipalities in Rocky View and Wheatland counties.