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Free on-demand shuttles to accompany Edmonton’s bus network redesign

On April 25, Edmonton’s first major bus network revamp in years will go live. It will be supplemented by on-demand shuttle buses.

Smaller shuttles with seating for up to 14 passengers will be rolling out to 37 communities and 16 seniors’ homes in Edmonton, in areas where bus stops have been moved further from residences.

READ MORE: Edmonton’s bus routes are changing. Here’s how to plan your trip

“We took our final bus network and looked at neighbourhoods that were beyond 600 metres of a regular bus or LRT service.

“Six-hundred metres, for the average able-bodied person, is a seven- to eight-minute walk,” explained Sarah Feldman, ETS director of planning and scheduling.

“Wherever there were enough houses or businesses beyond that distance, we considered them qualified for on-demand, given we had enough critical mass to make it happen.”

Residents in the on-demand areas will be able to book a shuttle bus to pick them up from designated stops within their community up to one hour in advance of their desired trip.

Click to play video: Edmonton Transit Service bus routes are changing

“Customers can download the app from the App Store or Google Play store,” explained Hamish Campbell, the general manager for Via Canada, which is handling the app and technology running the on demand service.

“It is called Edmonton On Demand. For customers without a smartphone, accounts can be set up and rides can be booked through Edmonton’s website or by phone.”

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On-demand requests cannot be placed days in advance because the city wants to limit cancellations.

Once an appointment is booked, customers will be directed to walk to a pick-up location in their area and, within 30 minutes during peak hours, a shuttle will arrive to bring them to a nearby transit hub, the city says.

The service is free — at least for the next two years — as part of the city’s pilot program for on-demand services.

Click to play video: New text option to report suspicious incidents to ETS

“Customers are not required to pay when boarding on-demand transit.

“Instead, customers pay the regular transit fare when they transfer to or board other ETS services,” said James Vine, the director of business development for PW transit, the contracted company running the shuttles.

READ MORE: New bus stop signs to appear on Edmonton streets ahead of 2021 network launch

The program is costing the city $10 million a year to run.

Some Edmontonians are skeptical of the plan and fear it will make transit inconvenient. Becki Willier is one of them. She’s used on-demand buses before, in St. Albert, and was not impressed.

“Sometimes it would come 10 minutes early. And I would see it from my window and try to catch it, but I could never make it. Sometimes they would just never show up.”

To try and combat that, Campbell said the app will send text notifications to riders, alerting them in real time of their shuttle’s location.

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Willier said her community will have a new pickup and drop-off stop just a block away from her home, so she’ll try to keep an open mind come April 25.

“I’m willing to give it a try and see if it’s way better.”

A map of on-demand stops and transit hubs is available here.

The city says route planners will not be able to incorporate on-demand routes until they go live on April 25.

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