TRANSIT TRENDS: ON-DEMAND
What’s red, white and also “green” (metaphorically speaking) and runs around Belleville at night? If you answered the On-Demand bus, you’re right.
When Belleville Transit partnered with Toronto based software company Pantonium in 2018 to pilot the first ever On-Demand bus system in North America, transit operators everywhere sat up and took notice. The objective? Take buses off fixed routes while optimizing usage based on real-time passenger demand. A welcome breath of fresh air in an era dominated by climate change concerns, the project garnered lots of attention in the green community.
Last June, the tech company received over $2 million in grants from Sustainable Development Technology Canada and Belleville Transit regularly fields calls from cities around the world interested in jumping on board the innovative On-Demand concept.
A CURVEBALL: COVID-19
Of course, big ideas often come with challenges, not the least of which arrived last spring in the form of COVID-19. When general ridership plummeted during the initial lockdown, Belleville briefly changed all bus runs to the On-Demand format. Whether passengers’ essential needs involved trips to pharmacies and grocery stores or transportation to a front-line job, all riders temporarily enjoyed Belleville transit for free.
Bus operations are back on regular schedules now, and the On-Demand bus only runs at night again, but the service continues to pave the way as a fine example for streamlined transit potential.
For cities like Belleville trying to provide efficient service in an area with low density population, the On-Demand system simply makes economic and environmental sense. No one wants to see empty buses trolling city streets wasting fuel. Previous nighttime runs had to travel the entire route regardless of whether or not passengers were waiting at stops.
“Anyone with internet can tell us where you are and where you want to go,” explains Paul Buck, Manager of Belleville’s Transit Operations. “You just arrange the time and then you get a confirmation notice that it’s been booked.”
Although most Belleville passengers book On-Demand buses via three internet options available (downloading the On Demand Transit: Rider App (transit code = bt) from the Web store, signing up through www.btletsgo.ca or emailing email@example.com), riders without access to a computer can also pre-arrange rides days or weeks in advance by calling 613-962-1925. According to Buck, you can even hail an On-Demand ride with a bus driver right at a bus stop if one happens to pass by.
Passengers using the app will also get a notification when the bus has left the stop just before their pick up and can even track the bus from that point in real time until it reaches them. The service operates until midnight every night of the week. Monday to Friday On-Demand runs begin at 9:30 p.m., while weekends start a bit earlier (7 p.m. Saturdays and 6:30 p.m. Sundays.)
Perhaps best of all, On-Demand passengers board the bus knowing they are playing their own part in helping the Bay of Quinte area go just a little bit greener!
“We always want to excel in the services we provide to a customer, while also reducing our carbon footprint,” declares Buck. “If you get people on the bus and give them great service, everybody wins.”