April 30, 2023: A mobile app is bringing transit on demand to a regional county municipality in west Quebec that has spent years looking for better, more convenient mobility to and from the Ottawa-Gatineau area nearby.
“When community members first hear about the service, they think it must be too good to be true,” says Laura Schnurr, director of climate transitions at the Tamarack Institute, citing Chelsea Councillor and local climate champion Rita Jain.
For just $4.75 per ride, people in Les Collines-de-l’Outaouais, population about 50,000, “can take advantage of flexible schedules and routes to travel nearly anywhere in the region at a time that suits them,” Schnurr writes in a recent blog post. Transcollines on Demand launched as a pilot late last year with funding from the province, four local municipalities, and user fees, and ridership has increased from 346 trips in November to 2,042 in February.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the public transit system in Les-Collines-de-l’Outaouais catered almost exclusively to public servants and other commuters headed to Gatineau and Ottawa in the morning, then returning home at night, Schnurr explains. But it wasn’t nearly a perfect system. Buses sometimes ran empty, and non-commuters like teens and seniors couldn’t get transit when they needed it.
Then when the pandemic hit, “the buses became barren and only offering fixed routes was no longer viable,” she recalls. “Today, commuters have begun returning to offices in town, but often only some of the time given the shift to more flexible work arrangements.”
With the new system, passengers use the mobile app to book their rides at least two hours ahead. The app suggests the nearest pick-up and drop-off locations and combines trips with similar itineraries.
After surveys showed 89% user satisfaction with the pilot, the Transcollines Board voted April 18 to make the temporary offering permanent. The system is expected to shift over to electric vehicles in the near future, and Transcollines also plans to shift some of its bus fleet to on-demand rides in the course of this year.
“As more residents become aware of the service and start using it, the social, environmental, and economic benefits will continue to grow,” Schnurr writes, adding that the same model could work well for other rural and semi-rural municipalities. Jain said she hoped the on-demand system would encourage people in the region to leave their second cars, or even their primary vehicles, at home.