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On-It rate from Calgary to Banff increasing by $2.50, direct Calgary to Lake Louise route approved

In 2023 the On-It bus service from Calgary to Canmore and Banff had 42,745 riders in the summer and an extra 2,081 when it ran for six days in December between Christmas and New Year.
Southland will assume ownership and management of the On-It regional transit system effective Feb. 28.
The Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission approved a price increase for OnIt service from its longstanding rate of $10 to $12.50 at its Wednesday (Feb. 14) meeting. RMO FILE PHOTO

Passengers hoping to head to or from the Bow Valley and Calgary via bus can expect a slightly higher cost.

But riders could also see a possibility of taking it past the Banff townsite to the heavily visited Lake Louise, which is frequently jammed with personal vehicles.

The Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission approved a price increase for On-It service from its longstanding rate of $10 to $12.50 at its Wednesday (Feb. 14) meeting.

“On-It was very successful last summer and we’re doing a similar amount of service for this upcoming summer, with the potential addition of running a direct bus for a good portion of the summer from Calgary to Lake Louise,” said Martin Bean, Roam’s CEO.

“The board approved support for that and we’ll be working with the partners (Parks Canada, ID No. 9, Town of Banff and Town of Canmore) to confirm what that exactly will look like for this upcoming summer.”

The new rate will officially start in May when the service revs up on the Victoria Day weekend, continuing into the fall. The service will continue to run Thursday evenings and all day Fridays through Sundays.

Since On-It service began in 2017, the fare from Calgary to Banff and Canmore has been $10 per person. A staff report noted the “cost of operations has risen significantly.”

Though increasing the cost, it’s not expected to impact ridership since the service is in large demand, stated the report.

“There’s not really concern because it’s still a very economical way to come out to the mountains or to go into Calgary if you’re going the other way,” Bean said.

In 2023, the service had a ridership of 42,745 in the summer and an extra 2,081 when it ran for six days in December between Christmas and New Year’s. According to the report, an increase of $2 and after expenses are factored in, would lead to $84,275 in revenue. By choosing an extra $2.50, it would lead to about a further $20,000 in revenue, the report stated.

Bean said the Family Day and Easter long weekends will also have On-It service as a trial to gauge interest for ridership.

“We learned it was very popular through the Christmas holiday season and the departures in the morning from Calgary sold out extremely quickly,” he said. “There were also a fair number of people who used it to go in from Banff and Canmore into Calgary for the day or overnight. … It’s an added benefit of providing a service for locals as well as bringing people out here from Calgary.”

On-It originally began on Saturdays and Sundays, but Fridays were added and in 2023 so were Thursdays evenings.

A 2023 survey of 1,302 riders found 47 per cent – or 611 – transferred to Roam routes with the intent of going to Lake Louise. However, it led to an increase in capacity for route 8x, leading to Lake Louise being added to On-It service.

Roam staff are continuing to examine possible shifts in some bus routes in both Banff and Lake Louise to mitigate overload concerns.

In 2023, the transit service had a record 2.5 million riders, far surpassing its previous record in 2022 of 1.65 million riders.

However, with no new buses joining its existing fleet of 31 buses – including 10 electric – the possible route changes are looking at enhancing service as best as possible by shifting resources from existing routes to the more popular ones.

Between June and August, more than 1,300 overloads were recorded between routes 1 and 2 in Banff and route 8x in Lake Louise. More than half were route 1, which goes to the Sulphur Mountain gondola, but the other two were hampered by overloads.

“We’ll see if it makes an impact, but it could take a little bit of pressure off for those days where people transfer if they can go directly to Lake Louise from Calgary,” Bean said.

“Being a pilot of that route will be more information gathering to see how it works and potentially make tweaks in the future.”

Roam is also hampered by the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings for Proterra electric buses, which in addition to existing supply chain problems, are facing supply issues of getting gearboxes. It’s leading to three Proterra buses being out of service long-term until the proceedings are completed.

Proterra was officially purchased by Phoenix Motorcar Company in January.

The commission approved continuing the contract with Southland Transportation – which owns the On-It brand – through 2025.

Bean said with OnIt running regional routes in Cochrane and Okotoks during the week, the weekend service complements the existing schedule to have buses running to and from the Bow Valley.

For the upcoming summer, Bean said Roam expects it to be a continued popular draw.

“We’re running approximately the same service plus the planned Lake Louise service, so it’s anticipated there’ll be some increase [in ridership]. A lot of it is weather dependent as well. Last summer, we had a lot of sunny days, so it was very enticing for people to use the service to come to the mountains.”

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