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Looking Forward 1990s-2017

photo of uniform hats from different yearsAs Thunder Bay Transit (TBT) entered into the 90s, another major study by a consulting firm was undertaken. In 1991, it was announced that TBT would implement revisions to its bus system on Sunday, January 6 as recommended by the consulting firm Proctor & Redfern. City Council had passed the recommendation in July 1990. The major features were expanding service to the Balmoral area, doubling the service in the Neebing area and changes to several other routes. These revisions were successful. The first phase of changes took place in September 1990 with changes to the Hudson, County Park 5A and Jumbo Gardens (formerly Fassina) routes. A new Balmoral route was put into operation by January 6th as well as improvements to the Memorial 13 and Neebing 10 routes. The Arthur, Northwood, Walsh and North End routes also received some restructuring.

1992 marked 100 years of service for Thunder Bay Transit, and the City of Thunder Bay celebrated accordingly. After 100 years of providing public transportation to the citizens of the Lakehead, TBT was proud to report that they offered a safe, convenient and economical form of transportation that also happened to be environmentally friendly. With citywide routes and reliable, regularly scheduled stops, the bus provided a convenient alternative for travel to work, school, shopping and recreational facilities. 

photo of hagi transit busesA recession in the early 1990s and significant changes in the transit markets had a considerable effect in Thunder Bay, contributing to a steady decline in ridership until the end of the decade. Despite this decline, in 1994 it was announced that Thunder Bay would be getting 7 million from Queen’s Park to buy new city buses and improve others in order to make them accessible to people in wheelchairs. With the funding, the City wanted to buy 15 new buses, refurbish seven buses and replace the driver’s work area on 20 of the buses. The funding was reported to be also going towards an automated telephone answering system, garage repairs and equipment, and the purchase of five modified vans and hardware. Accessibility became a large focus for Thunder Bay Transit.

photo of newspaper title

On February 16, 1995, new “Easier Access” Transit Coaches rolled onto the streets of Thunder Bay. Their leading edge design and technology from Canadian manufacturer New Flyer Industries of Winnipeg were unveiled at a ceremony in the transit garage on Fort William Road. The coach’s low floor design eliminated awkward steps at doorways, while wheelchair passengers boarded easily using the patented New Flyer ramp system. Each coach also offered two wheelchair positions to safely secure chair and rider during their journey. The new buses were not to replace HAGI Transit, but they did allow some HAGI passengers to be able to use the conventional transit system instead. The City announced that it would have 15 of these new vehicles.

Ridership in general, however, would continue to decline in Thunder Bay until the end of the 1990s. In order to combat this, Thunder Bay Transit underwent another study by the consulting firm IBI Group in 1999. The study was titled the Transit Review Study - Transit Strategies and 2000 Service Plan. The Plan provided direction on restructuring Thunder Bay Transit’s routes and services as the basis for improving the performance of the transit system in 2000 and for positioning the transit system to meet the goals of higher ridership and lower costs over the following three years.pullquote90spage

 It was found that TBT operated in a large, diverse, low density environment that had become increasingly difficult to serve. It was also found that Thunder Bay Transit was providing too much service for the levels of demand in certain areas in the city and in the rural districts. In high demand urban areas, it was found that TBT was not providing enough service. In order for TBT to keep up with changing market conditions, specifically, the growing decentralization of travel, they needed a fundamental restructuring of the transit routes, otherwise ridership and the financial performance of the transit system would continue to deteriorate and cause further downsizing of the transit system.

The goal was to restructure Thunder Bay Transit services and operations according to the needs of the market, the service standards that had been established by Council, and the fiscal priorities. The objective was to stop the decline in ridership while keeping costs at or below the present levels of the time over the following three years.

On June 22, 1999, the City held a public meeting to hear the opinions of citizens and it was found that, in general, residents of Thunder Bay seemed to want to see the transit system play a more vital and integrated part in the life of their city.

aerial of fort william in 1990s

The task of serving two previously established cities was taking its toll on TBT by the end of the 1990s. In most mid-sized transit systems, it was common for transit focal points like stations and terminals to exist in high activity locations and to facilitate transfers to other parts of the city. In Thunder Bay, the existing transit routes were focused on the two downtown centres of the two former cities, with full terminal facilities at both. Much of the new retail and other commercial activity in the city, however, was located in the intercity area, as were destinations such as Lakehead University and Confederation College.

aerial photo of intercity area in 90sBy 1999, there was more overall travel demand to reach these locations but the transit system had not yet responded sufficiently with service, thereby missing out on considerable new ridership potential. At the same time, there remained considerable activity in the two downtown centres, especially offices and institutions. Unlike the new commercial areas, the downtown centres had high densities, good pedestrian access, limited parking and traditional land uses, which were characteristics that typically had greater success at attracting transit riders. Because high travel demands existed from residential areas to both traditional downtown centres and the newer destinations in the intercity area, there remained a need for transit routes to continue to focus on the downtown as well as a need for better connections to the intercity and other areas.

The study also noted that the City’s bus terminals were each located a couple of blocks away from the busiest activity areas and their somewhat isolated locations resulted in security problems. The terminals were still needed however, as the high demand locations in Port Arthur and Fort William each needed transit focal points and convenient transfer facilities for patrons.  The study advised that if a decision were made to eliminate one or both of the downtown terminals, an on-street focal point and transfer facility had the potential to work if done properly and carefully. To be successful, such a facility would have to include the following:

- sufficient curb space to accommodate several buses meeting at any given time to transfer passengers.
- a layout that would allow all or most passengers to transfer without having to cross a street with significant volumes.
- good facilities to allow for comfortable transfers and waiting, including shelters, lighting and location in an open and active area where security would not be a problem.
- passenger amenities such as route and schedule information, ticket and pass outlets, which could be in a storefront operation, either a transit facility or contracted to, say, a convenience store or other retail outlet.
- washrooms for drivers.

photo of a bus at city hall transit hubAlthough the terminals remained for a number of years after the study concluded, in 2010 the City began construction of the new consolidated courthouse where the Brodie Street terminal stood previously. The decision was made to move the transit hub temporarily in front of City Hall on Donald St., and it was later decided that this location would remain the permanent Transit focal point for the South Core. When comparing the City Hall location with the recommendations of the study done in 1999, it is clear that the location is very desirable for Transit activity as it meets relatively all of the criteria for an outdoor focal point and transfer area. From the 2000 Service Plan, the City implemented a number of changes to routes, fares and scheduling, many of the changes made to the routes in 2000 are still active in today’s route system.

By 2003, the changes that the 1999 study recommended were beginning to show their benefits. Ridership was up to 2.8 million from 2.6 million in 2002. Transit officials credited the increase to the new runs and stops that were put in, the increase in routes to Fort William First Nation, as well as an increase in students attending Lakehead University and Confederation College. Additionally, the skyrocketing cost of automobile insurance and high gasoline prices were credited with having pushed more people to use the transit system.

GPS 20072007 marked Thunder Bay Transit's 115 years of service, and the transit department celebrated with a large inaugural celebration for the City's "100% Accessible" buses. The celebration also had two Brill Trolley buses, recently restored by the organization Buddies of the Brill, on display and the Transit garage was opened for a large gathering of celebration attendees. In 2007, as well, GPS equipment was installed on over a dozen of TBT’s buses. The tracking information was installed in order to help transit officials plan the timing of routes. The information would then be relayed to the digital screens at major bus stops to let those waiting know how long it would take the next bus to arrive. Electronic counters above bus doors were also installed to let planners know how many bus riders got on and off at various stops, allowing them to build more time into the schedule for busier stops. The technological improvements were anticipated to help increase ridership and funding and also create more efficient transit operation.

Lift Bus white

In 2014, the City officially took over HAGI Transit service. Council voted to make accessible transit - a service that was previously contracted to HAGI -  a part of the city’s transit department. Accessible Transit within TBT was renamed Lift+ and remains an essential part of the transit system today.

For more information on accessible transit and its history within Thunder Bay Transit please Click Here!

Further technological advancements were introduced in 2013 when Thunder Bay Transit introduced their partnership with Google Transit. With Google Transit, users were given the ability to plan a trip using public transportation through Google maps. Google Transit combines TBT planning and scheduling data with Google maps to create quick and detailed itineraries, a service that is particularly helpful for tourists and those unfamiliar with bus schedules in the city.

In 2015, Thunder Bay Transit added more changes to their bus routes to attract more users. The biggest change was to the East End route, which previously left City Hall to travel to the East End then head to the Thunder Bay District Health Unit and back to City Hall. Routes were supposed to have at least two connection points but the East End route did not connect with any other routes, only travelling in a loop. During a public consultation, East Enders made it known that they wanted a connection point at Intercity Shopping Centre, which TBT provided. The Northwood route was altered as well for the new Hogarth Manor that was being built on Lillie St. A number of other service improvements were implemented with small changes to a number of different routes to ensure Thunder Bay Transit’s efficiency.  In 2016, City Hall was confirmed to be the permanent location for the South Core transit hub, and plans to build a permanent terminal elsewhere were abandoned.

2017 marks 125 years of service in Thunder Bay. As Thunder Bay Transit moves forward into its next century of public service, the innovations and changes to come are welcomed. Over its first 125 years TBT has proven itself to be adaptable to an evolving Canadian society. From its small beginning as a street railway to connect Port Arthur to the major CPR activity in Fort William, to undergoing a number of major restructurings in order to service an area that was once two separate cities with surrounding municipalities, Thunder Bay Transit has persisted to provide reliable, convenient and environmentally friendly service to this diverse Northern municipality. By announcing in 2017 that twenty-one new public transit projects are slated to go ahead in the city, Thunder Bay Transit has shown that it is committed to maintaining and improving its exceptional service for years to come.

For more information on the future of Thunder Bay Transit please visit:

The Transportation Master Plan page on the City of Thunder Bay's website 

and/or

The Public Transit Infrastructure Fund

staffgallery163   Staff Photos Through the Years
 photo of Santa on the bus  Santa Bus Photo Gallery
 Can Car Brill Logo  Buddies of the Brill
 photo of bus at brodie terminal  Photograph and Newspaper Article Gallery