Last week, the City of Lacombe, Town of Blackfalds and the City of Red Deer launched the BOLT regional transit program, which offers bus service from Red Deer to Lacombe via Blackfalds.
Mayor of Blackfalds Melodie Stol said she is thrilled to see the program get up and running.
“Of course it is exciting,” she said. “It’s nice to see all the construction and infrastructure work going on, making sure the bus stops are ready.”
Stol added the community of Blackfalds is especially excited that BOLT will bring a transit program to Blackfalds while it is still a small community at less than 8,000 residents.
“To have transit in a town that size is really, really difficult,” said Stol, adding she doesn’t know of many similar-sized communities finding a way to make such a transit program function and be fiscally responsible.
Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie said the project is another case of the exemplary partnerships between communities in this region.
“It just strengthens the relationship between these three communities and shows we are an example for Central Alberta, if not all of Alberta,” said Christie.
The desire for a regional bus service was established around 2010 when Greyhound began to discontinue service in smaller communities, said Christie. At that point, the City heard from a lot of its seniors who were disappointed they could no longer jump on the bus in Lacombe and head into Red Deer for medical appointments, shopping and other engagements and then catch the afternoon bus going home.
Christie added the City soon began hearing similar complaints from other demographics as well.
“Once that was gone, we started hearing about it, not only from seniors but from students as well,” said Christie. He added that, while doing start-up research for BOLT, the City discovered a lot of commuters would be interested in using the service as well.
So, the City of Lacombe began looking at a way to offer such a service. The City then made several attempts and brought in Red Deer and Blackfalds along the way.
Lacombe Community and Economic Development Officer Guy Lapointe said, even after most of the logistical work had been done to plan the program, there was still a lack of capital funding to implement it. Luckily, Red Deer came through with some excess Green Trip Funding they had received and made arrangements for the funds to be used for the BOLT program.
Through the BOLT service, six round trips a day will take place between Lacombe and Red Deer on weekdays and three round trips on Saturdays. Buses will stop at three locations in Red Deer – near Parkland Mall, Sorensen Station and one on 77th St.
Should patrons wish to travel further from those destinations within Red Deer, they will be able to purchase passage on Red Deer Transit buses.
The new partnership won’t only bring a regional transit service for residents traveling between the three communities, but provide local transit for Lacombe and Blackfalds as well, said Christie. There are several stops within Lacombe and within Blackfalds that users can travel between without leaving the borders of their own community.
“That was an important piece for a number of councillors,” said Lapointe. “They didn’t just want to see people leaving the City, but that there was an opportunity for people to travel between the communities and get the opportunity to travel within your own community too.”
Two new buses have been purchased for the program and will be owned and maintained by Red Deer Transit. Lapointe added there is also a third bus that will be used as loaner or backup should anything go wrong with the other two.
For the launch of the service, Red Deer Transit has actually lent two buses to be used by BOLT as the new buses have not been delivered yet. Lapointe said they are expected to arrive in December.
He added the decision to have Red Deer Transit own and maintain the buses was made so that Lacombe or Blackfalds would not have to add infrastructure they didn’t have to store or maintain the vehicles. He said Red Deer Transit already has experience in this area so it made sense to take advantage of that.
While the new service is exciting and shows a lot of promise, it is important to remember that it will suffer the same issues as any new program. Lapointe wanted to make it clear that, while BOLT is meant to be a long-term program, feedback from users will reveal issues with the program that will need to be addressed as it goes on.
“We’re not going to get it right, right from the get-go,” said Lapointe.