NORTH BAY -- North Bay is launching a one-year pilot project with Via Software to start a 'dynamic dispatching system' for its public transit.

Riders can download a smartphone app and, with a push of a button, riders can book a bus ride to get to their destination.

"All municipalities struggle with off-peak hours where they have eight different routes," said Coun. Chris Mayne, chair of the infrastructure and operations committee. "In the case of the City of North Bay for example, and you're running eight buses and they're often empty."

The new 'myRide NBT Dynamic Dispatching' can be downloaded from Apple's App Store or Google Play. It will operate throughout most of the city on evenings Monday through Friday between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., Saturday between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. and Sundays between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m.

The service will be available throughout North Bay with the exception of the south end, which will continue to be serviced by two fixed routes

The technology will match multiple people headed in the same direction onto one bus and direct them to a convenient bus stop location. For those without a cellphone, you can call transit dispatch to book a ride.

"It’s still based on the existing bus routes, we're not going straight to your door," said Mayne. "We're not going two miles off. At this time of the year, hopefully you're not having to stand outside for half an hour freezing."

Real-time information

The app lets you watch the bus arrive in real- time and when to expect pickup. Riders CTV News spoke with have mixed opinions on the idea.

"I do ride the bus late at night, trying to book it will be quite interesting," said one rider.

“I think it's all confusing and I just want it to stay the same," said another.

The city is anticipating to have the system up and running by Sunday. Sault Ste. Marie launched a similar pilot project in September 2019.

Officials in the Sault said the response has been positive -- supported by a customer service survey -- especially with post-secondary students and younger passengers. Average wait times have decreased to 13 minutes, compared to hourly service for regular Sunday evenings. The service allows passengers to travel from one pre-existing stop to another as requested without having to transfer buses.

The pilot was originally scheduled for a one-year trial run. That is, until council decided to extend the project for two additional years.

“During the night time, this service on public transport will help us," said one rider.

Mayne said during off-peak hours, ridership is down, but COVID-19 and the ongoing stay-at-home order is playing a role, too.

"We're averaging about 2,000 persons a month and that's probably about a quarter to a fifth of what we normally see," said Mayne.

Mayne said the new system will make operations more efficient for late-night riders.