The City of Grande Prairie has added four new buses to its transit fleet. The Vicinity vehicles are 30 feet long diesels and replace older 40 foot ones.

“They are over a million kilometres,” says Transit Manager Jason Henry. “They’re 22 years old so they’re well beyond their lifespan. What happens when a bus gets that is it costs more and more money to maintain them; they become difficult to run.”

Henry expects each new bus will cost about two-thirds of what the older ones did in fuel, and half in upfront costs. He explains they’re part of a “smart sizing” project stemming from lower ridership in evenings, weekends and industrial areas.

“The demand for a larger bus just isn’t there. Larger buses cost a lot more to operate, so we thought we’ll bring in some smaller buses that are cheaper to operate during the low ridership times.”

However, Henry says the cost savings are “nothing” compared to what they’ll get from bringing in two electric buses next March. Those will be run on batteries, and the city will be using solar power to charge them as much as possible.

The moves are all leading up to a Transit Master Plan up for approval at next Monday’s city council meeting. In addition to more bus stops and shelters, the plan would include more flexible routes, increased service, longer hours and higher frequency.

“Our routes right now are built on a bunch of big circuitous routes of one-way loops, so if you want to go from point A to point B, it can take up to an hour,” says Henry. “The master plan, we’re going to implement two-way routes so the frequency will be a lot faster and hopefully that transforms into more ridership.”

Right now, GP Transit records between 45 and 50,000 trips a month. When compared to other similar-sized municipalities, its transit service levels and ridership are considered low.

To help promote the system, the city is planning monthly public events, starting with Transit Awareness Day on September 18th. On that day, riding the bus will be free, and there will be pizza and transit pass giveaways. Part of the transit plan includes a 25 cents fare increase every two years.