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Thanks to the new Transcollines On Demand service, people travelling in and out of the regional county municipality of Les Collines-de-l'Outaouais in western Quebec (population of approx. 50k) can take advantage of flexible schedules and routes to travel nearly anywhere in the region at a time that suits them for just $4.75 per ride.
Chelsea Councillor Rita Jain, a climate champion and member of Tamarack’s 2022 Climate Transitions Cohort, said that when community members first hear about the service, they think it must be too good to be true. Not only is the service real, but it offers other municipalities and regional counties a model to explore when it comes to public transit that meets residents’ needs and supports accessibility and inclusion.
A flexible transit solution in a post-pandemic world
Before the pandemic, Les Collines-de-l'Outaouais region had a public bus service that almost exclusively catered to public servants and other commuters who travelled into Gatineau and Ottawa in the morning and returned home after work. Buses were sometimes empty and many non-commuters (e.g., seniors, teenagers going to extracurricular activities) were left with unmet demands.
When the pandemic hit and fewer residents were commuting into the city, the buses became barren and only offering fixed routes was no longer viable. Today, commuters have begun returning to offices in town, but often only some of the time given the shift to more flexible work arrangements.
In response, Transcollines, which provides sustainable mobility to those in the region, partnered with Taxi Loyal and Cityway’s mobility technology to develop a more user-centred solution. Chantal Mainville, Communications Officer with Transcollines, explained that they drew inspiration from the TaxiBus service in Victoriaville, QC.
With funding from multiple sources including the provincial government, the four local municipalities (Chelsea, Cantley, La Pêche, Val des Monts), and user transit tickets, Transcollines On Demand (TOD) was launched as a pilot in late 2022. It has seen a steady rise in usage since, with 346 trips taken in November and 2,042 in February 2023.
Passengers can book rides at least two hours in advance using a mobile application. Based on the addresses entered, the app will suggest the closest pick-up and drop-off stops (it’s not a door-to-door service). If others share a similar trajectory, the system will combine the trips and passengers will travel in the same vehicle.
Improved access, inclusion and sustainability
Early results indicate a high level of satisfaction among users, with 89% of residents polled wanting to see the on-demand service offered permanently (on April 18, 2023, the Transcollines Board of Directors voted in favour of permanently integrating TOD into their service offering). Mainville reported that user demographics have been much more diverse than prior fixed routes, pointing to important social inclusion and accessibility outcomes. The service has created a new market for public transit, including locals getting to work within the community, teenagers who don’t drive yet, local businesses, and cautious drivers.
As for reducing local greenhouse gas emissions and helping tackle climate change, Councillor Jain's hope is that this service will incite people to give up their second cars (or even primary ones) and that Transcollines will be able to replace their fleet with electric cars in the near future. In the meantime, Transcollines will be converting a portion of its fixed service bus fleet to provide on-demand service during 2023. Most requests during the first months were not able to be matched with others, but already the sharp increase in ridership has allowed for much more pairing of rides, which benefits the environment while also reducing operating costs.
As more residents become aware of the service and start using it, the social, environmental and economic benefits will continue to grow. And hopefully other rural and semi-rural municipalities and regions across the country will draw inspiration from Les Collines-de-l'Outaouais initiative and explore whether a tailored model could work for them as well.