The much anticipated transit system that will connect Okotoks to Calgary and other centres in Foothills County is on track to start service in Fall 2016.
The greater Toronto area may have the Go-Train but Okotoks will be “On-It”, according to the Calgary Regional Partnership which has announced that its one stop closer to launching its pilot transit program. Welcome news for folks who own an Okotoks home but work in Calgary.
The plan is to connect the smaller, bedroom communities surrounding Calgary to each other via transit. Commuters living in other centres such as Turner Valley and nearby Black Diamond, as well as High River to the south.
It’s a two-year pilot project to see how it will be received, with service provided by Southland Transportation using four buses. Southland is known as a school bus provider but it will be operating coach buses with more comfortable seating.
As it stands today, there will be two buses originating each morning from High River with express service to Okotoks. Then, they will stop twice en route to the Bridlewood LRT Station at the south end of Calgary. The reverse trip will be offered at the end of the work day.
The other two buses in the pilot program will originate in Turner Valley and head through Black Diamond before going to Okotoks. From Okotoks, one bus will carry on to Bridlewood Station and the other will be used within the Town of Okotoks itself.
Once the pilot is over in the fall of 2018, the program will be assessed for feasibility.
The funding for this program is being shared between the Calgary Regional Partnership, which gets its operating money from the province, and the four municipalities involved which have all agreed to put in over $100,000 each year if required.
The feedback so far is positive as each municipality on its own would have not been able to fund transit service alone. Running transit in areas without sufficient population to pay for it is difficult.
Should this pilot be successful and fully used by populations in each area, the goal in the long-term is to provide service to all communities with the region and not just major centres. That could mean service to Millarville, Priddis, Bragg Creek and to the east, Chestermere, Strathmore, Langdon and Carseland.
At some point, based on the success of this pilot, Banff and Canmore could be on the roster. It would also be a complement to the commuter services already available in Airdrie and Cochrane.
Spokespeople for the Calgary Regional Partnership say that as each small centre around Calgary grows, it makes sense to offer transit services. In addition, businesses wishing to set up shop in some of the towns around the city would benefit as employees would be able to get to their place of work more easily.The biggest barrier to the success of this program is commuter support and the cost. The commuter program in place for Airdrie is very expensive to operate but it has the population to support it. After funding runs out for this Okotoks pilot project, the number of commuters that end up using the system will determine whether it proceeds after 2018.