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Expanding Rural Transit


Grand River Transit plans to expand services to rural communities within Waterloo Region.

Rural routes were first introduced to Woolwich in 2009.

Route 21, travels from Conestoga Mall in Waterloo, to the St. Jacobs Market, the community of St. Jacobs and then on to Elmira.

“This service has really grown over the years,” says Chantelle Thompson, transit planner with Waterloo Region.

“It started small, but there has been consistent growth every year since except for 2015/16 where numbers weren’t as high, but this was due to construction.”

But in recent years, rural communities are feeling the need to expand their bus service.

In 2018, route 21 to Elmira had 140,000 boardings, an 11 per cent increase compared to 2017.

“Discussions are underway regarding additional services to route 21 for next year, pending budget approval,” Thompson said.

“Right now, there is service only every hour. We are looking at additional frequency, every half hour, operating longer hours as well as adding Sunday service. This does depend on funding, council approval and discussions with the township.”

Month to month, route 21 is well on its way to exceeding ridership numbers this year.

Route 77, which travels to Wilmot Township, began service in 2016.

“The feedback since this service began has been very positive and ridership continues to grow,” Thompson says.

In 2018, route 77 to New Hamburg had approximately 19,800 boardings, a 22 per cent increase compared to 2017.

Photo: Barbara Geernaert

This service currently runs during peak hours, Monday to Friday and discussions are in the works to have these hours expanded.

Transit service in Waterloo Region began in 1888 when horse-drawn streetcars were operated by the Berlin and Waterloo Street Railway Company.

Grand River Transit was formed by the Region of Waterloo in 2000, assuming the operation of the former Kitchener Transit and Cambridge Transit.

Today, GRT operates more than 50 routes in Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Elmira and New Hamburg. It covers more than 16 million kilometres every year.

In 2017, ridership was more than 197 million.

GRT’s fleet consists of more than 250 buses and 35 specialized Mobility Plus vehicles. There are more than 2,500 stops across the region and more than 560 shelters.

And starting this month, GRT is expanding with the construction of the rapid transit network an ION light rail and ION bus rapid transit which will operate along a 19-kilometre route between Conestoga Mall Transit Terminal and Fairview Mall Transit Terminal.

ION Bus Rapid Transit Service began in 2015 and covers 17 kilometres between Fairview Park Mall Transit Terminal and Ainslie Street Terminal in Cambridge.

“Our upcoming issues include increased services to routes 21 and 77 as well as service to Breslau but again, that depends on the budget and availability of resources,” Thompson said.

According to Thompson, it is unclear how transit services will be affected in rural communities if amalgamation of the townships moves forward.

“Right now, we hope to continue to serve our rural communities and other rural communities such as North Dumfries and Ayr and, in the future, other townships. This is our long-term business plan. Services are being used in our rural areas and this continues to grow so it is important to keep them connected.”

For more information regarding WRT and routes in the rural townships, visit:

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