Dial a ride.

PR Transpo is being converted into an on-demand service.

At the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR) council meeting on February 24, a recommendation from the Department of Economic Development and Tourism was approved to change the inter-municipal service that began in October 2019 to an on-demand service where users will request rides online or by phone.

Originally, the bus service connected all municipalities, towns, and villages across the counties, but it has been suspended due to the pandemic.  PR Transpo is a pilot project that received a $2 million grant from the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) to sustain the service financially until March 31, 2023.

In October 2020, the UCPR Economic Development and Tourism Committee mandated Carole Lavigne, the Director of Economic Development and Tourism to develop an on-demand solution and find a cost-effect alternative to the regular, scheduled system of daily routes that was initially used.

Leduc Bus Lines was the initial operator of the service for the UCPR.  The recommendation approved by council on February 24 allows for Leduc to be retained as the operator of the on-demand service.

On January 27, 2021, the UCPR received approval from the MTO to continue the pilot project as an on-demand service until 2023.

The PR Transpo on-demand service will be deployed using an electronic application that will allow passengers to request rides, provide navigation instructions to drivers, allow UCPR staff to monitor the service, and compile statistics on trips and routes followed.

The new PR Transpo on-demand service will begin in June 2021 and have 21 months of operation as a pilot project.  Due to the funding from the MTO, the changes will have no impact on the UCPR budget.

Depending on the effectiveness of the pilot project, the service could continue under a private provider.  At the February 24 council meeting, Russell Township Mayor Pierre Leroux asked Lavigne if the private operator has ever provided a ridership number that it would require in order to viably continue to operate the on-demand service.

Lavigne said that the viability of continued operation of PR Transpo on-demand after 2023 will depend on the fees charged to users and the number of kilometres the buses travel.

“I just want to make sure that we actually have benchmark targets that we can evaluate as we get closer to the end date of the project,” Leroux said.

“I think it’s really hard with the current pandemic situation to evaluate this service,” said Warden Stéphane Sarrazin.

Support for the recommendation to convert PR Transpo to an on-demand service for the duration of the pilot project period was unanimous.

On-demand public transit is not a new service in Ontario.  GO Transit, the Ontario government regional transit service in the Toronto area operated “Dial-A-Bus” from 1973 to 1976 where riders could be picked up in a minibus or converted camper van from their home and be taken to nearby shopping centres or connections with other transit systems.