HSR planning on-demand transit pilot in Waterdown, wants $2.68M budget increase for 2021

HSR hopes COVID-19 lockdown restrictions will begin to soften between April and August. It also plans to launch an on-demand transit pilot program in September.

The on-demand transit pilot is set to begin on Sept. 5

HSR hopes to start its on-demand transit pilot in September. (Adam Carter/CBC)

HSR plans to launch a pilot project for on-demand transit in Waterdown.

The announcement came while the transit department announced its 2021 budget proposal.

While ridership to Waterdown is low, Jason Vander Heide, manager of transit strategy and infrastructure planning, said the city fell short in serving the area's transit needs, particularly near business parks.

HSR plans to use an app or other software which would allow residents to summon a ride.

The pilot will be a limited connection from Hamilton to Waterdown, and it will be paid for through what Waterdown residents already pay via area rating.

It won't use any private companies like Uber or Lyft, Vander Heide said. But if the pilot shows the program is feasible, he siad, it would become a precursor for other suburban areas with lower performing routes, or during off-peak evenings and weekends.

The pilot will launch in Sept. 5, and the department is in the process of procuring a service provider.

Coun. Judi Partridge (Ward 15) says the on-demand pilot makes sense.

"We're hearing loud and clear, we need to get transit out there … If you look at the demographics [of Waterdown], it's young people, it's young professionals, they're moving in droves."

If the pilot is successful, it could expand to other communities that have few transit options.

HSR thinks COVID restrictions will fade after April

As for the budget, HSR asked for a 3.4-per cent increase over 2020, which is  $2,688,000 more and would make the gross budget $141,519,000.

HSR plans to buy 13 buses, hire 35 full-time workers (29 of which will be operators) and add 46,000 hours of service, as well as implement a fare increase of five cents. 

All of this is part of year five of the city's 10-year transit plan, which aims to improve the service and boost ridership, encouraging people to get out of their cars and onto public transit. 

It was supposed to be implemented in 2020, but the department postponed it to 2021, which it says saved them $823,000.

Before the pandemic, ridership and revenue surpassed projections, but with COVID-19 restrictions, dropped to a fraction of its usual level. HSR ended 2020 with $23,074,389 in revenue and roughly 11,772,252 riders.

HSR hopes it can reach 54 per cent of its budgeted ridership and 57 per cent of its budgeted revenue this year, assuming COVID-19 restrictions gradually erode between April and August.


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