The County is still interested in inter-county transportation services, despite the failure of the County Connector. Kathleen Turner, Family and Community Support Services Director with the County of Grande Prairie, notes the bus was never a guaranteed permanent service.
Being a pilot project, if ridership had been higher, the County would have considered keeping it around. Turner says, with the arrival of COVID-19, however, it was simply the last nail in the tires.
“We started [the discussion] after the first year because ridership was low at that point, did some changes trying to increase ridership, and didn’t see any success with that. COVID hit and we had to suspend service. So, with the project running out at the beginning of December, it was, ‘do we start it back up for three months, or do we say we weren’t successful and just stop it now?'”
According to Turner, the average ridership between phase one travelling mainly between Grande Prairie and Clairmont, and phase two between Grande Prairie and Beaverlodge/ Hythe area, was 1.5 riders per trip. The County was hoping to see numbers ranging upwards of at least five or six riders per trip to justify keeping the service operating.
Turner says it was an investment that held hopes of growing, though did not consume vast quantities of taxpayer dollars.
“Fortunately it was a pilot project funded by Alberta Transportation, so there wasn’t any County ratepayer money that went into it. We did, however, purchase a bus for one leg of the project and we did have GreenTRIP funding for some of that,” she says. “The bus is still ours and we aren’t going to be losing that.”
The grant which made the project possible consisted of nearly $640,000 given to the County in June 2018, with the County Connector bus hitting the road the following December that year. The County does not yet have a plan in mind for a potential replacement program to meet people’s needs, but Turner confirms that options are being explored.