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Record high ridership fuels overhaul of city bus system

Cathy Dobson A rapid increase in the number of international students attending Lambton College is driving sweeping changes to Sarnia’s bus service. Sarnia Transit will get its first major overhaul in 20 years starting Sept.
Sarnia Transit riders at the Murphy Road transfer station.
A surge in the number of international students in Sarnia has sent municipal bus use soaring to record levels and prompted Sarnia Transit to undertake its first major route overhaul in 20 years. These riders were at the Murphy Road transfer station last week. Glenn Ogilvie

Cathy Dobson

A rapid increase in the number of international students attending Lambton College is driving sweeping changes to Sarnia’s bus service.

Sarnia Transit will get its first major overhaul in 20 years starting Sept. 1, in large part to accommodate dramatically increased student ridership.

Improvements are coming across the system, said transportation manager David Jackson.

“It’s really good news. There will be better service to the college, but also for many other routes.”

The number of international students at the Sarnia campus has more than doubled in five years, to 772 in 2017. Even more are expected again this fall.

Many of the students live in the Devine Street corridor where morning buses are often filled to capacity, said Jackson.

“The new plan will have three routes servicing the college and increased frequency on Devine,” he said.  The other two routes to the Sarnia campus will cover Sherwood Village.

For years, the city’s bus service was plagued with high costs and low ridership. But last year it posted an all-time high of 1,282,587 passengers.

College students account for 27% of the ridership.

Last year also saw an infusion of cash for new buses and transit depot upgrades.  A combination of provincial, federal and municipal funds generated $3.75 million for 12 new buses, new bus pads and shelters, cameras on buses, and new Care-A-Van scheduling software. As a result, about half the fleet is new.

An advisory committee of riders, managers, inspectors and operators provided input on the route changes approved last month by city council.

“It’s an ambitious timeline,” Jackson conceded. “But we have a lot of people working on it and we are now finalizing the new schedules and maps.

“I’m confident we’ll be ready for September.”

The city is also partnering with Transit App to provide real time bus information on android and iPhones. The app can be used to track the location of a bus, provide departure times and review route options.

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Sarnia’s website will also have the new schedule posted.

City staff is doing preliminary work for a new transit terminal in Sarnia’s east end, likely in the Lambton Mall area. It’s hoped more upper-tier grants will be available for a new terminal next year, Jackson said.

Funding is also in place to upgrade the shelter and seating at the Bayside Centre terminal.  However, that work won’t begin until the developer firms up its plan for Bayside.


Significant changes are coming city bus routes on Sept. 1:

ROUTE 1 - CONFEDERATION: Split into two parts. Travelling only between downtown and Murphy terminals to improve timing. Other routes (see Route 8) will service shopping districts;

ROUTE 2 - DAVIS: Increase frequency to 30 minutes from 60 minutes;

ROUTE 5 - ROSEDALE: Make route consistent during all hours of operation, connect to Murphy terminal each trip and service Sumac Lodge via Blackwell Road – Michigan Road – Modeland Road;

ROUTE 6: New peak route to provide north/south service in the central part of the city including Bluewater Health, Farmer’s Market, and Mitton Village;

ROUTE 8: Replaces Route 1 between Murphy terminal and Wal-Mart. Will improve service to Cardiff subdivision, new Great Lakes Secondary School and passes by Lambton College;

ROUTE 9 - EXMOUTH: Minor route change in Heritage Park due to new development;

ROUTE 11 - DEVINE: Increase frequency to 30 minutes from 60 minutes, change route to service Strangway Centre and Bluewater Health;

ROUTE 12 - POINT EDWARD: Connect at Northgate terminal instead of downtown terminal, provide regular service to Errol Road apartments;

ROUTE 14 - SHERWOOD: Reverse route to provide better access to shopping district and provide new service to Lambton College;

ROUTE 15 - BRIGHT’S GROVE: Shift final two buses one hour earlier to allow for transfers;

SUNDAY SERVICE: Start one hour earlier to align with Saturday service. Improves consistency and simplifies system for users;

EXPRESS BUS: Depending on need, provide express bus between major destinations.

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