Opinion Column

The evolution of Orillia Transit

Wesley Cyr, Special to the Packet & Times

Wesley Cyr, manager of engineering and transportation for the City of Orillia.

Wesley Cyr, manager of engineering and transportation for the City of Orillia.

Since starting with the City of Orillia as manager of engineering and transportation in Nov. 2016, I have been immersed in all things transit.

Orillia Transit customers have gone through some very challenging times over the last few years, whether it be the use of school buses, delayed service or access to bus stops.

This is all about to change.

I am happy to report that significant service improvements are well underway! Before we talk about moving forward, let me take you back to where it all began.

The transit service in the City of Orillia was established from a privately-run local service in 1975. At that time, six new buses were purchased to provide consistent and reliable service to the residents of Orillia. In 1978, Orillia Wheelchair Limousine Service (OWLS) was launched to provide specialized transit service for people requiring assistance.

During the first 30 years of service, the routes consisted of four "split routes" to service the existing population of the city, which included a ridership of approximately 200,000 plus throughout the 1990s. In 2008, a five-route system was designed and implemented to service the climbing population of 30,000.

Over the past eight years, ridership continued to grow to more than 700,000 transit rides annually. To meet the rising demand, the city has incorporated several service enhancements such as extending weekday conventional service hours into the evenings, establishing a universal bus pass for Lakehead Orillia students in 2010, implementing a flat rate for fares and passes in 2012, and providing a new eight-hour Sunday service in 2013.

We are now on the cusp of another wave of changes stemming from the forthcoming Orillia Transit Operational Review, more commonly referred to as the Transit Study. With growth pressures and changing land uses, transit planning is a continuous exercise. A transit system needs to be constantly studied to ensure the service meets growth trends and public needs.

The Transit Study will provide a baseline and roadmap for growth by analyzing the main components of the Orillia Transit system and propose recommendations on areas of potential improvement. The study recommendations will identify evolving changes to the route system over the next decade, as well as identify some tweaks that will help address some of the current inconveniences that are experienced on a daily basis.

Some noticeable improvements are already well underway. The city added three new transit buses to its fleet in Dec. 2016 and recently received an additional $1.25 million in federal funding through the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund to acquire an additional two new buses in 2017.

The city's fleet has recently been updated with new hardware and technology that allows for real-time data and information to be transmitted to staff and ultimately to the rider. In the coming months, the city will launch a new transit tile to its free mobile application Pingstreet, which will provide real-time bus schedule information to riders on their mobile device. The buses are also equipped with GPS driver display units that assist in keeping buses on schedule and help to improve the overall service.

The Orillia Transit system is continually evolving as the needs of our residents and commuters change. Whether it's adjusting our local routes to increase efficiencies and reliability, exploring options for regional transit with our neighbouring municipalities, upgrading our buses to meet accessibility standards, or embracing new technology to better serve our riders, the City of Orillia is always looking to improve.

We were excited to learn that starting in 2019 the provincial government is increasing funding for municipal transit systems through an enhancement to the existing gas tax program; doubling the municipal share from two cents per litre to four cents by 2021. What does this mean for Orillia? The city will consider using the additional funds to plan for infrastructure upgrades and execute the recommendations of the Transit Study as approved by council over the next five years. Coupled with a new transit service contract in the second half of 2017, it is an exciting time for Orillia Transit - please join us for the ride!

Wesley Cyr is the manager of engineering and transportation for the City of Orillia.

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