Transit Demand in a Global Pandemic

Transit Demand in a Global Pandemic


We have all seen, firsthand, the changes in society that have been evident during this unprecedented pandemic. The COVID-19 global pandemic has affected all countries, provinces, and cities in different ways – whether that is in our business and work-life or our social lives. For many, it has meant spending a lot more time at home, making the demand for public transit decrease significantly.

Over the last 15 months, the closure of businesses, reduction in social activities, and ban on gatherings during the pandemic have reduced the use of Public Transit by as much as 90% in some regions. During the early stages of the pandemic, we saw more dramatic lows, and as we reached the end of 2020, these numbers levelled out to closer to a 50% decrease.

In 2019, the City of Calgary had an average of 106.4 million riders. During 2020, we saw this number drop to 52 million—that is a 51% decrease overall. Calgary hasn’t seen numbers this low since 1980. In 2021, we expect to see 60% of the ridership we saw in 2019. Marco D’Angelo, Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) CEO, said at the beginning of the pandemic, they saw a 90 percent drop in ridership. In 2019, we saw numbers exceeding 5 million across Canada. Now, across the country, there are approximately 2.5 million people taking transit every day.

Different transit operators reacted differently to the drastic reduction in passengers. Some municipalities reduced the number of routes by up to 75%, ended services earlier in the evenings, or started later in the day. Some areas chose to make no changes to their services and continued to run the empty routes. Daily commuters were no longer using public transit services with “work from home” protocols in the workplace, and many university classes were also continuing remote in the Fall of 2020 and Spring of 2021, so students no longer needed transportation to campus.

Other municipalities utilized their transit vehicles differently. The Town of Okotoks used one of their On-Demand buses to provide grocery deliveries to vulnerable residents and seniors. This was warmly received by the townsfolk, who appreciated the innovation from the Transit team.

Things we learned from the pandemic

  • Passenger numbers and revenue will drop dramatically
  • The reasons for Transit use will change
  • Flexibility and innovation will bring success
  • Doing nothing is not an option

Over the past 15 months, the transit community was faced with much uncertainty which has given us  the opportunity to pause and reflect. Throughout the pandemic, we have been able to learn how to stay relevant and innovative during times of crisis and a changing society. As we come to the end of the pandemic, we will continue to learn and develop innovative solutions for our customers and clients—leading the charge in Canadian Transit!

On Demand Transit in Your City: Launch Recap and Lessons Learned

On Demand Transit in Your City: Launch Recap and Lessons Learned

This week we held Part 3 of On Demand Transit in Your City! The webinar was hosted by John Stepovy and James Vine from Pacific Western Transportation, Sarah Feldman from the City of Edmonton, and Hamish Campbell from Via.

Here were our agenda items from the session: 

  • Service metrics vs. targets
  • Customer satisfaction and feedback
  • Service tweaks/adjustments made in early stages
  • Lessons learned

Edmonton On Demand has been running for six weeks and there has been continuous increase in completed rides each week. So far we have a high of 402 completed rides which took place on June 1st. The majority of riders are returning each day but we are also seeing that 10% are new riders using the service each day. 

If you missed the webinar on June 5 and want to learn more, check out the recording from the link below. You can also check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the series in our blog!

If you have any questions about the On Demand service and how it might be a good fit for your community, feel free to reach out to John Stepovy or James Vine for more information.



Article by Sarah Hamilton, City of Edmonton Ward 5 Councillor

The Bus Network Redesign came into effect a little over a month ago, and with it came the new On-Demand Transit service. This represents a significant change to the type and level of transit service that many West Edmonton residents can expect moving forward. I’ve continued to hear feedback from residents as the new routes have rolled out, and I’ve gone out to try the new service myself. Given that most transit users likely will have had a chance to use the new service by this point, I’d like to share some comments about the process and a few of my own observations so far.

First, as many of you will have seen by now, I did not vote in favour of the Bus Network Redesign. I wrote about that decision back in November 2019, when the vote took place. I understood and appreciated the rationale for the bus network redesign, and I agree in principle with the idea of efficient allocation of limited transit resources to areas where they will have the most impact. Building on top of a 20+ year old bus map was never going to be our best path forward. That being said, I could not in good conscience vote in favour of a plan that would see so much fixed bus service pulled out of Ward 5, even if we have a number of low ridership neighbourhoods. It is important that our public services not only run efficiently, but also with equity of access in mind, and it is no secret that many Ward 5 residents are seeing less frequent and less expansive service now than they were a few months ago.

As we know, Council did approve the Bus Network Redesign, and I’m not somebody that is going to wash my hands of an issue just because the vote didn’t go my way. I think Ward 5 residents deserve to know that their City Councillor is still working constructively to try and alleviate their concerns. I have continued to share resources about the Bus Network Redesign on social media over the past several months, and I’ve been communicating with staff at Edmonton Transit Service to share the reports that many of you have brought to my office. I would encourage anybody that wishes to offer feedback on the new bus network to reach out to ETS using this public feedback form. While ETS will be sticking to the Council approved network for the time being, they have indicated that they will make adjustments in the future based on demand, user feedback and ridership data.

I also feel that we are in a much better position today than we were previously to push for targeted transit service improvements in Ward 5, and if I am on the next City Council I will be pushing for new transit funding in the 2023-2026 budget cycle to add service to the communities I represent. While the old bus network may have had certain elements that were better for West Edmontonians, it was also not a network that anybody was eager to build upon, myself included. For years, past City Councils had been making piecemeal, one-off adjustments and additions to an old network that had long since stopped reflecting the way in which Edmonton has grown over the past 20-25 years. While I may not be satisfied with the current state of our bus network, I do feel that we have a more appropriate foundation on which to build a transit network that can serve every Edmontonian.

Independent of the broader network, I have been quite pleased with how the On-Demand Transit service has rolled out. Many of you may remember that I have spoken quite openly about how challenging the first kilometer/last kilometer problem has been in West Edmonton, and I was a fierce advocate for the adoption of an on-demand model that could help alleviate this problem. I represent too many neighbourhoods that either have had no fixed bus service, or were slated to lose what little fixed bus service they did have. As of today, Edmonton is now operating the largest on-demand transit program in the country, and I think ours will serve a model for a lot of other cities that face similar service gaps. I give a lot of credit to the staff at ETS for their vision and bravery in designing this new layer of integrated service. Six Ward 5 communities have been included in the two-year pilot program (Cameron Heights, Edgemont, The Hamptons/Hope Road, Rio Terrace/Quesnell Heights, Wedgewood and Westridge), and I hope we see this service expanded to other communities in the future.

I went out and utilized the service myself in the first week of implementation, travelling from Edgemont to Lewis Estates on an on-demand vehicle, then from Lewis Estates to West Edmonton Mall on a standard bus, then back onto an on-demand vehicle to go from WEM down to Cameron Heights. My main takeaway was– it’s pretty seamless! The pickup timelines were tight, the operators were friendly, and the mobile app is very smooth. I put up a series of Instagram stories documenting my journey, if you’d like to take a look. I really hope more folks in impacted communities will give the on-demand service a try. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. And as I have said in the past, it really strengthens our argument for increased transit service in West Edmonton when residents utilize the service they do have.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the bus network redesign, the on-demand transit service or anything else that I’ve raised here. Please don’t hesitate to send me an email at or give my office a call at 780-496-8120.

Leading The Charge With On Demand Transit

Leading The Charge With On Demand Transit


Over the years we have been developing and refining our on demand transit services. In a lot of small towns across Canada, on demand is becoming the new standard for public transit and PWT has quickly become a Canadian leader with our full-service, and customizable, planning, implementation, marketing and operations.

In small communities, traditional route-based transit services are often running with low ridership and limited routes. This is inconvenient for customers, expensive, and has a negative impact on the environment. On demand is a great alternative that allows for an affordable and efficient public transit system, tailored to the needs of a specific community.

As on demand transit continues to grow, PWT has been working closely with the Town of Cochrane and the Town of Okotoks to create custom on demand systems. So far, these services are a roaring success. Both towns are small, but fast-growing, creating a huge demand for public transit services.

COLT, Cochrane On-demand Local Transit launched on October 7, 2019. COLT is a 100% on demand transit system servicing the entire Town of Cochrane, the first of its kind in Canada. There are 145 virtual stops and it accommodates children, infants, wheelchairs, and bikes. For the citizens of Cochrane, scheduling a trip has been made easier than ever with the mobile app, website, and over-the-phone booking options. These extensive features make the service convenient and accessible to everyone in the community.

Here’s how it’s doing:

  • Over 50,000 passengers transported to date
  • 14.09 min average trip
  • 4.6/ -5.0 passenger rating
  • 95% on-time performance


The Okotoks On-Demand Transit service launched on December 2, 2019 as Okotoks’ first-ever public transit system. Just like COLT, the Okotoks system accommodates children, infants, wheelchairs, and bikes and can be booked on the mobile app or through the call center. Okotoks is unlike any other due to its curb-to-curb service within city limits.

Let’s check out the stats:

  • Over 40,000 passengers transported to date
  • 8.6 min average trip
  • 4.7/ 5.0 Passenger rating
  • 98% on-time performance

As leaders in the people transportation industry, we are connecting more communities in North America with on demand transportation solutions. Visit our On Demand page to learn more about how PWT could transform mobility in your community.

On-Demand Transit in your City: Service Design and Operations

On-Demand Transit in your City: Service Design and Operations

Thank you for joining us for Part 2 of 3 webinar series about On Demand Transit! Part 2 was hosted by Dan Finley and James Vine from Pacific Western Group of Companies, Sarah Feldman from City of Edmonton, and Hamish Campbell from Via. For those unable to join us, here is what you missed.

Haimish Campbell, Country Manager for Via in Canada, walked through the digital aspects of the service and how on-demand service is being adopted around the globe. He also discussed the impact of COVID-19 on transit service and the expansion of on demand transit services during the pandemic.

A major part of the planning process was differentiating the service parameters between fixed route service and on-demand service. Service design process for Via and the City of Edmonton was as follows:

  1. Establish goals
  2. Figure out parameters
  3. Simulate or estimate what the service would look like for riders

Haimish also discussed the external variables that may dictate certain aspects and how Via and the City of Edmonton planned around them for optimal service.

Sarah Feldman, Director of Planning and Scheduling with the City of Edmonton, took us through the Marketing and Communications initiatives that went into the new On Demand service from the City of Edmonton’s perspective. Extensive thought went into raising awareness for the new service, service branding and visual identity, and what the physical stops would look like for the on-demand service.

Sarah also walked through what plans are in the works for integrating On-Demand with the current transit app for trip planning purposes.

James Vine, Director of Business Development at Pacific Western Group of Companies, discussed the operations side of the On-Demand service in Edmonton. This included vehicle sizes, vehicle specifications, service policies and rules, and staff and system oversight. Thought went into what accessibility integrations were required, the specifics of the service in terms of scheduling and policies, and decisions around staffing requirements to run the service and what background systems are in place to ensure the system is operating effectively.

To watch the entire webinar, please visit our YouTube Channel.

Be sure to register for part 3 of the webinar series taking place on June 3, 2021.


On Demand Transit as a Solution for your City – Webinar #1  

On Demand Transit as a Solution for your City – Webinar #1  

On April 9, 2021, we hosted Part 1 of our 3-part webinar series about On-Demand Transit with the City of Edmonton. If you missed it, don’t worry! Let’s get you caught up with On Demand Transit as a Solution for your City.

Here was the agenda for Part 1:  

Why On-Demand Transit (ODT)? 

  • What problems did the City of Edmonton need to solve?
  • What other problems can ODT address
  • Cost-benefit analysis

Service Delivery Decisions 

  • Where, when, and how
  • Contracted vs. in-house
  • Creating an RFP and contract

Council Buy-in / Approval Process 

  • Ridership and cost estimates
  • Service metrics, goals, and cost metrics

Opposed to traditional route-based services, On Demand transit consists of dynamic routes on a booking-based system. Customers book a pickup and a drop-off, and the automated system plans out the best route to optimize time and space on the bus.  

In 2017, Edmonton discovered a need to rethink how public transit looks in Edmonton which meant planning a whole new bus network. This initiated the development of the Edmonton Transit Strategy that would be planned and prepped for a launch in 2020. In the discovery phase, some of the major challenges were getting routes to developing neighbourhoods sooner, creating more effective transit services in the outskirts of the city, and bringing transit to areas where route-based transit was not workingThrough extensive research, the City of Edmonton discovered that On Demand transit, may be the solution.   

After 3 years of research, public engagement, gender-based analysis, and planning, the service is finally ready to launch in May 2021. The research that went into the planning process informed 20% of decisions made later down the road in developing the service. This public engagement and analysis were crucial in gaining approval for this project.  

Watch the webinar recording below, or visit our YouTube Channel

Be sure to register for Part 2 of the webinar series on May 6, 2021.