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Johnston Canyon, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake reservation routes returning for 2022

“People adapted to it really well. I think the key is still having some walk-up spaces so you could change your mind if you wanted to catch a later bus or not have to make a reservation if you didn't want to take chances, but our experience was pretty positive.”
20200319 ROAM Bus COVID 19 0031
A passenger waits for the ROAM transit bus at the Shoppers Drug Mart stop on Thursday (March 19). EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO⁠

BANFF – The one-year pilot reservation system for three popular routes on Roam transit showed initial success and will return for 2022.

More than 18,000 tickets were sold and close to 4,000 unique riders took advantage of the reservation system for the Johnston Canyon (Route 9), Lake Louise scenic (Route 8) and Moraine Lake (Route 10). The early success had the Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission (BVRTSC) approve the continuation of the program into next year.

The three routes offered a split in seats, with 75 per cent reserved and 25 per cent eligible for walk-ups.

“People adapted to it really well,” said Martin Bean, the CAO for Roam transit. “I think the key is still having some walk-up spaces so you could change your mind if you wanted to catch a later bus or not have to make a reservation if you didn't want to take chances, but our experience was pretty positive.”

According to statistics, the Johnston Canyon route had reservations outnumber walk-ups in four of six months. There were 9,064 tickets sold as reservations compared to 5,595 walk-up tickets.

The Lake Louise route had 3,234 tickets sold to people walking up from May to September and reserved spots counted for 1,562. The Moraine Lake route, which ran for parts of September and October, had 1,166 reserved tickets sold compared to 1,195 for walk-ups.

The areas are popular for visitors and locals hiking, cycling, walking or taking in the scenic locations.

The reservation system was introduced in the spring following approval by the transit commission in April.

An agreement was signed with Betterez – a third-party reservation platform, which offered a low fee per ticket and an easy-to-use web-based platform. The system allowed riders to buy tickets in advance, guaranteeing them a seat.

The pilot program had gross sales of just under $87,000, with about $4,500 in fees going to Betterez and $3,100 to Moneris. The setup costs were $1,900 for tablets, website updates and installation fees, but two-thirds of it was covered by the GreenTRIP mobile ticketing grant.

“Drivers had to change a little bit in what they do as far as having a tablet and scanning passes, but it proved to be pretty easy,” Bean said. “A lot of customers really appreciated being able to make a reservation and also the flexibility that we offered in changing reservations. If they were running late or wanted to change their day, we just allowed them to call and make a change. They could do that online as well.”

June was the most popular month for riders heading from Banff to Johnston Canyon as 1,916 people used the reservation service. In July there were 1,509 and 1,157 in August. Heading back from Johnston Canyon to Banff were 1,329 people in July.

The Lake Louise route had a peak time of 409 reserved spots in August from Banff to Lake Louise, while the return back to Banff had its peak month in July with 206. The Moraine Lake reservation that ran in September and October had 726 in September and 440 in October.

After the Bow Valley Parkway reopened to vehicles on June 30, a staff report noted ridership declined and some customers asked for refunds as they chose to drive instead.

The demographics breakdown of riders showed Albertans were the main users at 34 per cent. However, Ontario was a close 32 per cent followed by Quebec at 16 per cent, then British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

Bean said people from neighbouring provinces such as B.C. or Saskatchewan will typically drive to the valley, while those from Ontario and Quebec are more likely to fly to visit the region.

Of the Alberta riders, 35 per cent came from the Calgary area, 21 per cent were from the Bow Valley and 19 per cent were Edmontonians.

“An added advantage is it gives us access to some demographic information that can help let us know where people are coming from and using the service,” Bean said.

The report highlighted feedback from drivers had customers happy with the system, but there were some issues with the scanning app. Feedback received from riders also showed the majority were satisfied with the process of reserving a spot and using the route.

The main challenges were the ability of drivers to scan all tickets before departing, but the addition of transit ambassadors at key spots helped cut down on time. There were also some issues with the ticket scanning app because of remote locations, but a partnership with Johnston Canyon Lodge and Bungalows led to WiFi access.

In Canada, reservation systems on public transit are typically reserved for more regional-based routes that have lower ridership. But the reservation system is commonplace in European countries.

Its intent was to help limit capacity to follow public health restrictions due to COVID-19, but continue to allow riders to use the service.

The reservation system also gave people a chance to plan ahead if they were going to Lake Louise, which started the initial year of a two-year trial program for paid parking.

From mid-May to mid-October, Parks Canada charges $11.70 per vehicle per day. However, Parks Canada also introduced a reservation shuttle system – one separate from Roam transit – to both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake.

The system is aiming to limit the number of private vehicles heading into the park each year, but particularly in the spring and summer months. In 2020, there were about 4.1 million people who visited Banff National Park. It is estimated only 7.2 per cent – roughly 287,000 people – come on public or mass transit, with the remainder coming in private vehicles.

The draft management plan for Banff National Park is also calling for vehicle restrictions at certain times on roads to Moraine Lake to help protect wildlife.