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Roam transit looks for overloaded bus solutions

“The message has got across that transit is the way to move around and we’re really happy about that. … We’re excited by the growth and we’re just looking at continually looking ways to improve and make it a better experience,”
Roam transit riders board a bus in Banff in September. RMO FILE PHOTO

BOW VALLEY – Addressing a growing number of transit riders turned away due to overloaded buses will be a key priority for Roam transit before the 2024 tourism season.

According to a staff report to the Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission, there were more than 1,300 overloads between June and September for routes 1, 2 and 8x in Banff and Lake Louise.

Martin Bean, Roam’s CEO, said the transit service will be looking at potential ways to minimize future overloads in working with other public and private services and messaging to people visiting the Bow Valley.

“One of the things we will look at and try to do is change the messaging on when is best to ride transit,” he said. “We have lots of capacity in the morning and often in the early afternoon, so that’s one message we’ll be putting out for next summer. We’ll be looking at other options to increase frequency during peak periods with our existing fleet. There are plans for fleet growth in future years, but not for next year.”

Bean added Roam will also look at ways to work with other services that run shuttles to popular spots such as Parks Canada in Lake Louise and Pursuit for the Sulphur Mountain gondola.

The Lake Louise Ski Resort allows people to park and take transit to Moraine Lake and Lake Louise, while Pursuit has frequent shuttle service throughout the summer to the gondola.

“It helps take some of the pressure off Roam services. … With the volumes up there, we need to make sure we’re utilizing both the Pursuit shuttles and our own,” he said.

For route 8x between Banff and Lake Louise, Bean said they have 18 daily departures in the summer and increased it from seven to 11 during the winter months this year. It also has a reservation system that has at least half the seats reserved, which continues to allow for walk-up passengers, but Bean said reservations were selling out quite far in advance this summer.

“The 8x is getting more popular on an annual basis, not just in the summer,” he said.

However, Bean noted the use of public transit is likely to keep climbing as people park and take transit to avoid congestion in the popular tourism areas.

The municipal commission members of Banff, Canmore and Improvement District No. 9 have all prioritized mode shift away from personal vehicles, but the influx of tourism means millions of visitors each year.

Banff’s vehicle congestion threshold is 24,000 vehicles per day, which was surpassed all but two days from July 4 to Sept. 4 this summer. It peaked at 31,594 on Aug. 6, according to Town records, and visitation to both Lake Louise and Banff has rebounded following the COVID-19 pandemic.

In September, Roam surpassed two million riders for its highest numbers since forming as a transit service. Bean said it’s up by about 60 per cent compared to 2022 numbers for “a significant increase”.

New buses also take between 18-24 months to be delivered after receiving approval from the respective municipal council or councils, with the next one in Banff expected to come in 2025.

Bean said in addition to messaging and working with public and private partners, the transit authority will also look at specific times when routes are busy and potentially increasing frequency.

He said in the summer the gondola can be particularly busy from 3-4 p.m. and people going from downtown to the area of Tunnel Mountain with the campground and hotels is just as busy from 5-6 p.m. The large buses seen in Banff and Canmore can hold about 70 people, including those standing, while the highway coaches used for the 8x can hold 52 people but lack standing room.

Redirecting buses would depend on both bus and driver availability, with Roam sometimes relying on staff from its dispatch also helping as drivers, Bean said.

“We’ll be looking at our routing to make sure it’s the most efficient and that we’re having the frequency where needed at certain times of day,” he said.

“For example, the overload bus may go up to the gondola to help out for an hour or so and then come down to [Banff] high school [transit hub] and help take people back up to Tunnel Mountain hotels or the campground. Each area tends to have their peak times.”

Bean added with Roam now having a data analyst, they’ll be able to quickly see where the busiest times are, where pinch points in ridership are and be able to make adjustments.

According to the staff report, route 1 had more than half the 1,307 overloads at 745, with route 8x at 415 and route 2 at 374 for a total percentage of trips of 5.14 per cent.

For route 1, 42.55 per cent of overloads happened on the weekend and were largely between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

A total of 40 per cent of overloads heading toward the gondola took place at the Banff Park Museum stop, while 80 per cent of the downtown-bound overloads were either at the gondola or Rimrock Resort Hotel.

Overloads for route 2 largely took place between 2-9 p.m., with Mondays making up just under 30 per cent of the overloads. When the bus headed towards Tunnel Mountain, 73 per cent of the overloads were at the high school and when coming downtown 52 per cent  were at the Tunnel Mountain Hotels bus stop.

The route 8x bus between Lake Louise and Banff had 17.83 per cent of overloads on each of Thursdays and Saturdays. The bulk of overloads heading towards Lake Louise was at the high school transit hub and when coming back to Banff, 72 per cent of overloads were at Lake Louise lakeshore stop.

“Our goal is to not jam people in, so we’d like to have enough frequency and capacity to only put about 50 people on a bus,” Bean said. “As we look at expansion, our goal is to have enough frequency that if you miss a bus because it’s full, there’s another one coming in 10 to 15 minutes and you don’t have to worry about being delayed too long.”

While there were more than 1,300 overloads, the report noted drivers aren’t meant to collect the exact number of people left behind waiting for the next bus.

Bean said Roam will look at ways to better analyze and gather information on how many riders are being impacted.

“The message has got across that transit is the way to move around and we’re really happy about that. … We’re excited by the growth and we’re just looking at continually looking ways to improve and make it a better experience,” Bean said.