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Sep. 23, 2021 | Thursday
Local News
Road test: NOTL's new on-demand transit service delivers
An NRT OnDemad van. (Richard Harley)

A $3 ride, for real?

With Niagara-on-the-Lake's new NRT OnDemand transit system just launched, The Lake Report decided to see first-hand how the new ride-share system works and what the experience is like for users. Here's how it went.

First of all, the ride was $3 as promised. The same ride in an Uber would cost $30.

We decided to use the NRT app to book a trip from Glendale near the outlet mall to our office on John Street West in Old Town.

After selecting the pickup location and destination in the app, it quickly said a vehicle could be there in four minutes — not bad, considering there are only two buses serving Glendale, Old Town and Virgil.

The app requires you to create an account and provide a credit card info for payment, but it's a pretty simple setup. (Tip: Until Dec. 31, the transit service is offering a $10 account credit to first-time users.)

The "bus" — a 2020 Toyota Sienna minivan – picks you up from the nearest corner and will take you directly to your destination in Glendale, Old Town or Virgil.

Friendly driver Samantha Pye said it was her first time driving the route in NOTL, but said she has driven in other Niagara municipalities that also offer the same on-demand system.

Things have been going smoothly since the service launched less than two weeks ago, though she's still getting used to the new routes. We took the ride at about 2 p.m., and she had started her first shift in NOTL at 1 p.m.

She's excited to be driving in NOTL, she said, noting she took all the shifts she could get working here.

In other muncipalities, she said people sometimes book all the seats to ensure they're the only ones travelling in the bus, or to make room for groceries, etc.

"It's hard for people that understand the rideshare concept — they kind of think we're a cab, so they can show up with all their groceries and their walker and things like that, which so far hasn't been a problem for me, but I also have another lady, she books three seats, so that she can have her walker and things like that," Pye said.

Booking all three seats is allowed, she said.

As far as COVID safety, she said the drivers are fully equipped with sanitizer, extra face masks and they wipe down the vehicle after each ride.

The new service has some advantages over conventional transit, she said.

"I'm not gonna call bus drivers lazy, because they're not by any means, but they don't have time after every passenger to wipe down where they could have been."

"So in that aspect it's really good so far."

For drivers, she said the only problem is they need to stretch once in a while.

"A bus driver laughed at me, I got out of the van to fill up one day and I was really busy and she saw the stretch ... She's like 'Yeah, drove a bus for 40 years, Sweetie. That's what's gonna happen.' I'm like, 'Oh no, better start doing some pilates.' "

As far as the routes and app goes, she thinks they've worked out most of the glitches.

"With everything new, you're gonna get bugs."

She said drivers all have to undergo background checks and take training before starting the service.

"We do accommodate wheelchairs, so we also had to take an extra course for that."

Ridership is growing slowly and she expects more people will use it as they learn about the service. The Lake Report was her first ride on Thursday.

"It's only been a few days," Pye said. "One girl told me she's been quite busy but then another gentleman that I took over for today said he sat for like pretty much his whole shift just waiting for a ride."

Grimsby has taken to the new transit, she said. "They love it."

"Another thing, too, the kids in Grimsby are loving it. I had these girls just take it just to go to McDonald's," she said.

"You just kind of have to think of this as like a little bus, except a lot more clean. Everything in the back is adjustable as far as like temperature and things like that so in the summertime there's AC, in the winter there's heat."

Drivers are stationed at two terminals, she said, one at the outlet mall and another on Queen's Parade.

In the end, the service delivered precisely as promised, right to the driveway of our office, for just $3.

The service runs from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday, except holidays. Riders are encouraged to download the NRT OnDemand app. Call 289-302-2172 or email support-niagara@ridewithvia.com for more information.

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