"To give you an idea, right now since September…we're not at six months yet…we've seen a 25% increase in ridership in the Queen Street corridor. Overall our ridership at the end of 2010 over 2009 was up by 12.6% and then this year January we had an 18% increase over last January and February we had 17%. So overall for the first few months of this year we're seeing a 17% increase over last year – that's overall systemwide. Those kinds of numbers are surprising us. It's a good a good problem to have, but it's almost a panic because we didn't expect so many people to use our service. We were looking at maybe 8% to 10%. So it's quite a bit more."
Currently, the BRT vehicles operate in mixed traffic with signal priority. "Basically what we've done is extended the right hand turn lane and moved the island. Once you get to the corner, vehicles turning right can turn right, but the buses go straight through to get around the traffic in the intersection and the stop is on the far side. We have signal priority at those intersections," Sonner says.
All of the stations along the corridor provide real-time information, including digital signs that list information about bus availability, route maps and information boards. This real time information is also available on personal devices like smart phones. Züm station stops are unique to the GTA and feature modern design and functionality. Station stops vary in size and are equipped with spacious heated waiting areas, better lighting, security cameras and comfortable seating.
The system currently has two terminals — the Downtown Terminal and the Bramalea City Centre Terminal — and terminates in Toronto at York University, which is a major university in Toronto.
During this first phase of introduction, Züm is using the GFI fare boxes that are used on the conventional buses as well. We're just migrating to the Presto fare card that the province of Ontario is managing. Because we were new, we're actually launching that at the end of March, we did not look at an alternative fare system because it seemed kind of redundant for six months," explains Sonner.
Brampton runs New Flyer Excelsior hybrid electric buses for its Züm service.
"We are the first transit system in North America to use that new vehicle from New Flyer. They are not only hybrid electric but they are significantly less in weight. They are approximately 2,000 pounds less in weight than their normal 40-foot model," Sonner says proudly. "We are seeing significant reduction in fuel costs, around 15%. Because we're new, we're trying to be approximate with those numbers because we need to fine tune them a little. We expected it to be around 8% to 10% fuel economy and we're seeing more than that."
Brampton Transit spent a lot of time and effort on branding the new BRT system. The agency hired a firm to develop the name for the service, which was a lengthy process. Sonner says they started out with 160 different names before narrowing it down to Züm. "Züm was chosen because the thought was they wanted a contemporary European feel to the service to really attract people to see that it's new," she says.
The branding didn't stop with the unique name, however.
"The buses themselves we took a lot of time to decide on colors. Both the inside and the outside are branded. We've gotten comments from all over on the look. They're really noticeable on the street and everywhere we go with the vehicles we get comments," Sonner says. "We were able to do some things at a really reasonable cost that really make the buses stand out. In the interior we've got seats that have more padding than our conventional buses with higher backs, the seat materials themselves are cloth and they have a pattern on them but we actually have the brand name, Züm, embroidered on the seat. The walls in the back of the bus are carpeted in light gray. Everything coordinates well in the interior.
"A lot of our marketing, what we were marketing to our customers, is what we call the three Cs: control, comfort and convenience. Comfort on the bus, comfort in the stations while you're waiting, the real-time information so you know exactly when your bus is coming, the real time on your personal device so if there's a delay on your route you get that information automatically on your device, and when you get to the station you can type in the number of the station and it will tell you when the next bus is there. There's a lot of technology that we've introduced and it really seems to be paying off. The stations as well are branded to match the buses. We've used a lot of red in our branding. The stations have the real time information, benches, they are quite large. The ones that are fairly busy there is plenty of shelter for the people waiting."