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New Grassi Lakes, Nordic Centre bus route to begin in 2024

“The goal is to create a transportation option to get into the park to one of the busiest areas of Kananaskis and do that in a way that can give people access to the park without having to park as much,” said Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon about a plan for a free transit route between the Canmore Nordic Centre and Grassi Lakes day-use areas by 2024.

CANMORE, ALTA – Nearly $1 million from the provincial government will help fund a free transit route to provide service to the Canmore Nordic Centre and Grassi Lakes day-use areas by 2024.

The funding partnership between the Town of Canmore, the Alberta government and the Bow Valley Regional Transit Service Commission (BVRTSC) will run for three years. It will allow time to see the success of the route, especially with the area it serves popular to both locals and visitors.

Joanna McCallum, a Town of Canmore councillor and chair of the BVRTSC, said the Town and the commission are “very excited” for the partnership, particularly in its potential to increase free transit options and reduce congestion.

She noted how important the project is in further managing congestion, providing affordable options to transit and reducing the impact on the environment.

“We know there is no practical way to build adequate parking to accommodate the volume of visitors who love to access these special sites,” she said. “By adding a new local transit route with hourly service to these areas between the May long weekend to mid-September, we can provide an attractive alternative for people who may normally choose to drive in a private vehicle.”

Minister of Environment and Parks Jason Nixon said the money for the bus is coming from the province’s Kananaskis Conservation Pass, which brought in about $12 million in its first year of existence. He said the money will help with the bus cost, but also create transit stops, operations and help with necessary infrastructure.

“The goal is to create a transportation option to get into the park to one of the busiest areas of Kananaskis and do that in a way that can give people access to the park without having to park as much,” he said.

“One of our big goals is to try and alleviate some of the congestion that we see in Kananaskis. … One of the big things we’re hearing from users of the park is limited parking options and some of the congestion, so our hope is with this transit option with the Town of Canmore we’ll be able to give people access to Kananaskis without them having to park in that tight environment.”

The province is chipping in $994,000 to help cover costs for the electric bus and costs associated with the route. The bus was purchased for $1.05 million and the annual operating costs for the route is $183,000, with a 50/50 split shared between the Town of Canmore and Alberta Environment and Parks at $91,500 each.

The purchase of the bus came from $700,000 through GreenTRIP funding, while the province added the remaining $350,000. An additional $360,000 was budgeted for nine new bus stops for the seasonal route, signage and improvements to up to eight existing stops. The province will add $320,000 for that and the remaining $40,000 will come from GreenTRIP funding.

The additional funding from the province will leave the Town of Canmore on the hook for $275,000 in operational costs spread over the three-year period once the bus begins running.

Martin Bean, Roam transit’s chief administrative officer, said with the bus beginning in 2024, it gives time to create the necessary infrastructure such as stops, ensure there are no delays in receiving the bus and develop the route.

It also allows construction in the area of Grassi Lakes and Goat Creek day-use areas to be completed this year to help with parking congestion and enhance recreation opportunities.

Nixon said work is expected to begin in early April and will cost more than $4 million.

Rachel Ludwig, the chief executive officer of Tourism Canmore Kananaskis, said the extra route for popular spots will aid in giving visitors additional travel options instead of just relying on a personal vehicle.

“It’s an important step and aligns well with our vision of a sustainable tourism economy. Extending free transit will make access to some of our most popular spots more easy for locals and visitors alike.”

The bus will stop at Grassi Lakes, the Canmore Nordic Centre, Bow Valley Trail and Quarry Lake, so it’s connected with both the local and regional routes.

The line will run from the May long weekend to the third week in September, but Bean said depending on weather, it could be extended to the Thanksgiving Day weekend.

“The success of the route will be determined by the ridership and the lower number of cars in the area,” he said. “My thought is it will be very successful because the demand’s there and more people are connecting to transit.”

The announcement is another in a big week for regional transit options.

On March 22, the BVRTSC and Parks Canada signed a five-year $12.9 million agreement. It will help purchase three new electric buses that will aid in the goal to reduce car use and emissions.

It’s expected by the summer of 2023, Roam will have about 30 per cent of its fleet – 10 of 32 buses – be electric, making it one of the higher transit services with electric buses by percentage in Canada.

The deal will also help look at new routes, improve others and assist with operational costs.

The new bus for the route has been in the works for more than a year, with Canmore council approving its funding for the new route in March 2021.

The Town’s Integrated Parking Management Plan that was approved in 2018 prioritizes free public transit to help ease congestion.

Michael Roycroft, the regional director of the Kananaskis Region, said with the Grassi Lakes day-use area being upgraded this summer and other necessary infrastructure improved, it will aid in transit options in the region.

“We anticipate and certainly hope that if it proves successful that it becomes a template for possible future transit solutions and options for the broader Kananaskis Country into the future.”

Estimated number of visits to Kananaskis Country

  • 2015: 3,597,678
  • 2016: 3,706,633
  • 2017: 3,733,772
  • 2018: 3,793,782
  • 2019: 4,111,942
  • 2020: 5,412,443
  • 2021: 5,015,423 
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