From offering real-time route tracking to helping hundreds of Airdrians get around town – and beyond – Airdrie Transit is staying ahead of the curve.
This past summer, Airdrie Transit launched a new app called Transloc that lets users find out exactly when the next bus will arrive, sending out push notifications to phones if there are any delays en route. The system works with local buses and the Intercity Express (ICE) routes.
The app is just an example of how transit systems don’t need to be part of a large metro area to embrace technology, says Chris MacIsaac, transit co-ordinator with the City of Airdrie.
“You no longer have to be this larger municipality that has a lot of resources,” MacIsaac says. “It’s been scaled down to the level where the Airdries of the world can implement that technology, in some cases more quickly than large municipalities.”
For example, he says, within the next one to two years, mobile ticketing – where you pay using your smartphone instead of hunting for change or fishing a pass out of your wallet – could become a reality in Airdrie. “It’s based on a framework that’s already existing with QR codes, so it’s nothing new we’re creating, nor is there a huge capital investment we need to make it available to customers,” MacIsaac says.
This fall saw Airdrie’s first purpose-built transit terminal open for business at the south end of Main Street, serving as a hub for local buses and the ICE routes that now number four: two direct to downtown Calgary, one to the McKnight-Westwinds CTrain station by way of CrossIron Mills, and a newly added fourth route connecting to Crossfield that was approved by city council in September.
The $3.5 million South Transit Terminal includes a 150-stall ‘park ‘n’ ride’ and will be at least partly funded by the province’s Green Transit Initiatives Program (GreenTRIP) – a decision on whether the park ‘n’ ride will be covered by GreenTRIP had not yet been made at press time – with a further 100 stalls planned in a future phase. Airdrie has received $12.6 million in GreenTRIP funds which between now and 2020 will also go towards buying new buses, adding services and building a new maintenance and storage facility, MacIsaac says.
The terminal’s location at Airdrie’s south end looks a bit out of the way, but in fact it’s been placed to allow easy access to the QE II for the ICE buses, to serve as a hub for in-city buses, and it’ll be close to the future 40th Avenue connector, MacIsaac says. “And it’s adjacent to the rail tracks,” he adds, “so if, in the future, there is a need or demand for heavy rail [transit], we have that strategic site ready and we can redevelop to meet those needs.”
ICE recently reached a milestone. “We’re five years into ICE as of October, and in [those] five years we’ve effectively doubled the number of buses the City owns in the ICE fleet, and we’re doing twice as many trips as we provided in 2010,” says MacIsaac. “And we can now say we provide seven-day-a-week service to Calgary every 75 minutes.”
It wasn’t always smooth sailing. “I remember on Day 1 when the [ICE] buses were pretty empty; you didn’t have a lot of people using the service that first month … now to see where we are today, it’s phenomenal growth,” MacIsaac says. (On an average day, ICE transports 300 to 400 people into Calgary.)
With Airdrie’s population approaching 59,000, according to the 2015 census, its transit service has to meet the needs of a city that’s one of the fastest-growing municipalities in the province. That’s why its first-ever transit master plan is now being formulated.
“It’s a 20-year plan looking at everything from how decisions are being made to how service is being planned in new and existing communities to what resources are required to deliver transit to the community,” says MacIsaac.
The intent, he adds, is to take the plan to council by next spring (following resident consultation), with potential implementation of recommendations set out in the plan as early as fall 2016.
“We want to transition from just running the services as we have them today to looking forward at mobility – not only transit, but how can we improve the mobility of residents,” he says.
One thing that’s not changing for Airdrie Transit in the near future is its fees, as there are no hikes planned going into 2016. MacIsaac says that part of this is due to maximizing revenue from such things as selling ads on the buses and benches – “and, in the future, bus shelters”– and the fact ICE is recovering its costs, thanks to such partners as CrossIron Mills.
For more information about public transit in Airdrie, visit airdrie.ca.