By Heather Abrey
Kitchener Post staff
Rangers fans now have the option of taking a Grand River Transit bus to the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium for free, but the program is not without its complications.
Ticket holders can pick up free bus tickets from The Aud during regular box office hours or during a Rangers game, courtesy of the City of Kitchener and the Rangers. The tickets can be used to travel to and from The Aud, beginning two hours before each game and extending 30 minutes after.
The program is being funded by parking revenues at The Aud, according to Kim Kugler, director of enterprise for the City of Kitchener. While the level of usage isn’t clear yet, she estimates the program will cost about $2,500.
Season ticket holders can pick up their bus tickets in bulk, but for fans who are attending only one game, there are two options to avoid an extra trip to The Aud.
“One is that, when they pick their tickets up, they can get them at the same time as they get their tickets. They can actually get the passes at the point of purchase,” said Kugler.
“If they’re just a one-time goer, minimally they can at least get a ride home.”
Those who don’t wish to travel to The Aud in advance but still want to use the program can pay for a bus ride to the game, then pick up a free return ticket.
James Howe, an auditorium-area resident, found it difficult to find information on the program and questioned whether it is set up to succeed.
“Until Friday there was no information online, and even now it’s not entirely clear exactly how it works,” he said.
“It seems as though you need tickets to ride free, but you can only get them at [The Aud] . . . It has not been promoted very widely either. Ideally I would have preferred to have had the GRT agreement in place well in advance of the regular season, have it widely promoted and that it be as easy as possible for people to use.”
Some have questioned why fans can’t use their Rangers tickets to board the bus for free, but proper usage tracking will help determine whether this pilot program, which runs until the end of December, will continue.
“Because it was a pilot they decided to go with tickets to try and get a sense of how much usage there is,” said Eric Gillespie, director of transit services.
“We could, if the demand warrants, look at making additional service improvements.”
The GRT is considering eventually installing an electronic fare system, like Presto in the GTA, according to Gillespie.
“At some point that advance technology would allow a campaign like this to be managed a little more efficiently, but because we’re still on tickets this is the way we’ve done it. We’ve marked the tickets and then we’re going to monitor usage to get a sense of how popular the pilot was and build on it for future years,” he said.
The new program was announced to season ticketholders through a newsletter in which the GRT trumpeted their improved services.
“What we are promoting is the improved Grand River Transit network over the last couple of years, and specifically last fall. We added about 75,000 hours of service, including some new routes,” said Gillespie.
Route 8, which has a 30-minute frequency, is the only bus that stops at The Aud. Residents can use the GRT online trip planner to figure out other routes that will help them arrive at the game on time, according to Gillespie.
“If people went to the trip planner they’d be able to see which route they can take from their community, where they could make their connection, or if they’re living on Route 8 it would just be the single bus,” he said.
The new GRT program is working in conjunction with the recently added Rangers Express — a shuttle bus that leaves from several restaurant locations across the region.
The shuttle buses, which were launched for this season’s first home game, proved to be so popular that an additional three buses have been added at the Montana’s Kitchener, Montana’s Waterloo and Moose Winooski locations on Friday nights.
But the downtown bus, which leaves from Kitchener City Hall, has seen less action, according to Howe.
“I think the GRT free ride program, in addition with the Rangers Express program have the potential of going a long way in helping to reduce the demand of on-street parking. It’s going to be, in some ways, a long game in terms of changing people’s behaviours, but they are definitely major steps in the right direction,” he said.
“At the same time I think downtown Kitchener has huge potential to be a place where people are parking and going out to eat before the game, or enjoying some drinks and snacks after the game.
“I think a lot more needs to be done to promote that as a destination for people to park with some incentives for them to spend some time downtown either before or after the game.”
While the new programs have helped to alleviate some parking pressures, Howe says it hasn’t gone far enough.
A larger carpool lot, with a minimum of four passengers instead of the current three, should be considered, Howe said. In addition, more of the parking lot could be converted into paid parking, which could help encourage fans to consider other transit options.
Parking pressures will only increase with the arrival of winter, as several area side-streets switch from having parking on both sides to only one.
“I think it’s over 100 spots that get lost in January. So we have to make sure that some of these additional measures are in place and more effectively promoted and used before January,” Howe said.
Additionally, some one-way residential streets become difficult for emergency vehicles to access when snow narrows the road and parking continues, according to Howe. Not to mention the desperate measures some game-goers take to find parking.
“On Sunday night, when I was driving by Sheppard School there were at least a dozen cars that were parked either on the grass or on the baseball diamond,” he said.
“There’s been a lot of positive things happening, but at this point I don’t think it’s enough to compensate for the additional demand for parking that was created.”