Don't have an account? Create one now

2007 Transportation — Co-winner 2

City of Charlottetown

Innovative Public Transit System

Population: 32,245

The City of Charlottetown designed and instituted a public transit system that was cost-effective, convenient, city-wide and environmentally friendly, using a fleet of five vintage-style, low-platform trolley buses. The city wanted to provide a viable alternative to private vehicle use, one that would be accessible to commuters, students, lower-income residents and tourists. It realized this vision through an innovative partnership with Trius Tours Ltd., a local company that will operate the public transit system for at least the first five years. Ridership projections forecast an annual reduction of 125,000 litres in commuter fuel consumption, resulting in a 375,000-kilogram drop in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Actual ridership during the first year of operation was 40 per cent higher than projected and is expected to climb even higher.


Prior to this initiative, Charlottetown was the only provincial capital without a formal public transit system. With an aging population, significant student presence and a growing tourist industry, the need for safe, reliable and environmentally sustainable transportation was seen as paramount. It was determined that, to encourage use, the system would need to have flexible service hours, directly accessible transfer hubs at major destinations and the capability to expand over time.

According to 2001 census data, there were 10,540 drivers of private vehicles in the city. This amounted to 33 per cent of the population, which numbered 32,245. Telephone surveys found that 80 per cent of people over the age of 18 relied on private vehicles as their primary mode of transport within the city. With a municipal area of only 44 square kilometres, traffic congestion and lack of parking in the downtown area were becoming increasingly problematic. The goal of the initiative was to develop a transit system that would create opportunities for growth and development, improve the quality of life for citizens and yet still reflect the historical character of the city.


  • Inexpensive and convenient transit gives students better access to post-secondary educational institutions, allowing them to live in lower-cost downtown housing. Lower-income residents, many of whom work in call centres on the city's outskirts, can also commute to work more easily.
  • It was projected, based on initial estimates of ridership, that the five buses would reduce commuter fuel consumption by 125,000 litres, reducing GHG emissions by 375,000 kilograms.
  • Ridership during the first year of the program was calculated at 105,250, which is over 40 per cent higher than the initial projected figure of 75,000 riders. Monthly ridership has been increasing steadily since April 2006, and is expected to continue to rise.
  • The city has recently put a sixth trolley bus into service. Cassidy says that the transit system is now logging 350,000 kilometres per year and collecting 12,000 fares per month. The new projected ridership for the second year of the program is 175,000 passengers, 75 per cent higher than originally anticipated.
  • Changes to the system, resulting from monitoring and rider surveys, have created shorter routes and better transfer options. The current routes appear to be functioning well.

Lessons Learned

  • EXPLORE PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS. The public-private business model used for the transit system has attracted enormous attention. "The passion and energy brought by private companies toward securing business, along with the stable funding provided by the public sector, has been a great combination," says Donna Waddell, the city's director of corporate services. Waddell also notes the benefits of being able to tap into the existing infrastructure of a private company such as Trius Tours Ltd. with respect to logistical matters like repairs and backup buses.
  • SECURE THE SUPPORT OF MUNICIPAL LEADERS. Waddell underlines the fact that "no new municipal project works without champions." The champions she refers to are Mayor Clifford Lee and Deputy Mayor Stu MacFadyen, who were instrumental in the formation of the regional transit committee and who supported the transit system in all stages of the process.
  • TAILOR THE SYSTEM. Cassidy calls Charlottetown a city of trolleys and novelty buses, citing the new slogan, "You'll know us by our colours." Rather than using a standard bus design, Charlottetown recruited Dupont Trolleys, an established company from Quebec City, to design vehicles that would reflect the character of the city. Each trolley bus has a unique colour scheme, making the vehicles easily identifiable and encouraging people to try the system. Twelve Victorian-style bus shelters, recently erected, have a functional purpose while still reflecting the style and ambience of the city.
  • PLAN SUBSIDIES AND FINANCING CAREFULLY. The city has provided Trius Tours Ltd. with an operating subsidy since the program began. However, funding decreases annually, ensuring that private partners work diligently to promote the system. As Bobby Dunn, general manager of Charlottetown Transit, says, "The city provides $19 per user in operating costs, which is well below the average cost of $29 per user. The system's operating costs are far lower than the median levels for other similar municipalities."

Partners and Collaboration

  • Charlottetown Transit
  • Regional Transit Committee
  • Trius Tours Ltd.
  • Dupont Trolleys
  • Entra Consultants Inc.
  • FCM's Green Municipal Fund
  • Government of Canada
  • Pat and the Elephant
  • Queen Charlotte Junior High School
  • Staples Business Depot
  • Upper Room Hospitality Ministry Food Bank
  • Sears
  • West Royalty Industrial Park
  • Student unions of the University of Prince Edward Island and Holland College
  • Charlottetown Airport Authority
  • Consultants
Page Updated: 21/12/2015