BOW VALLEY – Additional transit services for Banff were supported by the Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission, but the ultimate decision will rest with Banff council during budget deliberations.
The transit commission endorsed additional early morning service to Banff’s industrial compound, extended summer season, increased winter service and a hybrid electric bus purchase for Banff local service in 2026, but the the increase in services would be fully funded by the Town of Banff.
Roam CEO Martin Bean said the additional service would “enhance transit in Banff” if it gets the OK from Banff council.
"What we’ve seen is if transit is more convenient and easier, people will start to use it," said Bean.
"The ones who don’t have cars are waiting for the bus, but people who have a car will jump in their car because they don't want to wait."
While most additional service levels were supported by the commission, the potential of fare-free regional transit for Banff residents between Banff and Canmore and Banff and Lake Louise pitched by Banff council in 2022 was turned down for now.
Bean said “it would not be positive for residents or for Roam” given the existing capacity issues if fare-free regional transit was implemented for Banff residents. However, Roam staff will return to the commission’s October meeting with potential alternatives such as a discount plan.
A report presented to the commission with statistics up until the end of July shows about 1,000 cases of people not being able to get on buses because they were full. Route 1 led the way with 477 followed by Route 2 at 282 and Route 8 with 268.
Commission members expressed concerns about bus overloads in future years and how service could be impacted.
Rather than look specifically at individual routes, Bean said a more system-wide look will aid in potentially shifting resources to address issues.
“We have to look at the other routes and potentially there’s service we can pull from other routes to help with the higher demands,” he said.
Jed Cochrane, Parks Canada's visitor experience manager for the Lake Louise, Yoho and Kootenay field unit, said a pressing question is how many people should be expected to be on public transit to popular locations, particularly as tourism has rebounded after the COVID-19 pandemic.
He added certain spots can’t handle “an infinite number” of people, but that it was equally important to recognize how transit has solved issues of over-congestion seen in years past.
“It’s important to remember where we’ve come from in terms of getting people out of their cars with the frustrations and complaints and things we’ve solved using transit,” he said. “While we obviously don’t want to leave anyone behind and we know there’s complaints and frustrations when that happens or when they’re upset about the transit system, we’ve solved a lot more complaints with everybody using transit than when those complaints were about congestion, long lineups when they couldn’t get vehicles into places or not access spots because transit didn’t exist.
“Unfortunately, the system right now isn’t making everybody happy, but the previous lack of a system or where we were five years ago was way worse.”
The commission approved hiring a consultant to complete a study on ridership and projected growth to help map out the network-wide fleet needs for the next 10 years as well as the potential budget to go with it.
The study, which is funded through the commission’s capital reserves of up to $50,000, will be brought back by the third quarter of 2024.
The increased service to the Banff industrial compound would see buses begin at 6 a.m. instead of 6:40 a.m. A staff report showed from Jan. 1 to Aug. 30, 2023, 2,355 people rode Roam each way between the townsite and industrial compound. If approved by Banff council, it would begin in fall 2024.
The commission supported increasing summer service on Route 1 for an extra two weeks to match Route 2, which goes until the final Sunday in September or the first Sunday in October. Route 1 now ends summer service Sept. 17.
In the summer, Route 1 runs about every 17 minutes with four buses active and Route 2 is roughly 22 minutes of frequency with three buses running. However, in the fall both routes go back to two buses on each route.
A staff report noted Parks Canada subsidizes Route 2 to continue through the end of September when the Tunnel Mountain campground closes.
The need came about due to the increased visitation to Banff and creating more stability between Banff routes. The extra costs are estimated at $27,500 in 2024 then $28,300 in 2025 and $29,200 in 2026.
An increase to winter service, if approved by Banff council, would see an additional three hours added to both Route 1 and 2 to help both morning and evening service. The increased service would see Route 1 start at 7:15 a.m. and run to 7:45 p.m., while Route 2 would begin at 8:15 a.m. and go to 9 p.m.
With summer service for the two routes running between 17 and 22 minutes, the spring, fall and winter months have a frequency of about 40 minutes during early morning and late evenings.
Statistics showed from January to May, 2019 there were 168,940 passengers on Route 1 and 136,603 on Route 2. For the same time frame in 2023, Route 1 was 235,329 for a 39 per cent increase and 248,795 people for Route 2 for an 82 per cent jump.
The 2024 increase would lead to a projected extra cost of $118,000, followed by $126,000 in 2025 and $124,000 in 2026.
The pruchase of two new hybrid electric bus was also supported for 2026 after ridership on Banff Routes 1, 2 and 4 was its highest through Aug. 27, 2023. It noted two new electric buses are expected for Banff in 2025, but with increasing ridership and the potential of increased service, extra bus capacity is needed.
The report highlighted the commission has been approved for the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP), which covers 40 per cent of the cost of hybrid electric vehicles. The new cost forecast is $1.4 million, with $3 million being the total cost and $1.2 million coming from ICIP. The remaining $400,000 would come from the commission’s replacement reserve.
The projected operating costs would be $392,000 based on 144 days of service running nine hours a day. The report stated bus delivery is about 14-18 months once ordered.
The 2024 draft budget has an increase of 5,800 service hours jumping to slightly more than 75,000 with the new Grassi Lakes route in Canmore expected to come online in 2024 and the Johnston Canyon route in Banff National Park running on weekends throughout winter months.
The draft budget proposes a safety and training manager, a human resources and payroll administrator, a transit dispatcher and a transit systems technician.
An employee wellness plan, additional Canmore-Banff regional service, a long-term maintenance strategy study and more office space are also in the draft budget.
The transit service has a fleet of 31 buses – a third of which are electric – and will increase to 32 next year. There are 110 part- and full-time staff.
For Canmore, the potential service level asks listed are an electric or hybrid bus purchase and fall and winter service for the Grassi Lakes route, beginning in 2024. Three hybrid or electric buses for the regional route between Banff and Canmore are listed, but not formally asked.
The commission’s draft budget has a 2024 total income of $12.81 million, which is forecasted to increase to $13.42 million in 2025 and $14.32 million in 2026.
Draft operating expenses for 2024 are $11.93 million, projected to increase to $12.26 million in 2025 and $12.63 million in 2026. The estimated net income is forecasted between $1.02 million and $1.35 million for those three years.
The transit commission accepted the draft budget, which is up for public comments for 30 days. The budget returns to the commission for approval in October.
Canmore starts its budget talks in November and Banff’s service review and budget begins in December, meaning there could be changes in January if the municipalities add or remove service levels.
Roam ridership surpassed 1.67 million riders on Aug. 22, which is a record for the transit service. Bean said at the Sept. 6 meeting they’re expecting to pass two million riders before the end of September.
An additional $537,250 was added to the 2024 proposed budget, while $528,000 for 2025 and $544,000 in 2026.
DRAFT OPERATING, CAPITAL BUDGET REQUISITION
TOWN OF BANFF
- 2024: $3.27 million
- 2025: $3.37 million
- 2026: $3.60 million
TOWN OF CANMORE
- 2024: $2.46 million
- 2025: $2.59 million
- 2026: $2.72 million
IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT No. 9
- 2024: $788,000
- 2025: $804,000
- 2026: $866,000
- 2024: $2.41 million
- 2025: $2.52 million
- 2026: $2.59 million
- 2024: $102,000
- 2025: $103,000
- 2026: $106,000