A 20-minute trip to visit family and long-time friends in Salmo has turned into a four-hour excursion for Fruitvale’s Bob Brown.
The 77-year-old, known in the community as Brownie, recently lost his driver’s licence.
So when he chose to make the jaunt to Salmo by bus, the Beaver Valley Manor resident was met with a circuitous journey through Trail, Castlegar, Playmor Junction and Nelson, before BC Transit’s wheels ever hit the village’s turf.
“I have been introduced to a new way of life,” he said. “After 61 years my doctor sent a letter to the Motor Vehicle Branch,” explained Brown. “With my present eyesight I could not drive safely and was thus introduced to the new upgraded transit system.”
Historically, there has never been a bus route available on the 26-kilometre stretch of highway between Fruitvale and Salmo, and calling a cab would be a wallet-busting $75 one-way ride.
The shortest distance between all six communities is 132 km but allowing for additional diversions through the route’s drop-off points, the distance grows meaning further delays and time added to Brownie’s destination.
The current Kootenay Connector line runs two days, Tuesday and Thursday, on the final leg between Nelson and Salmo, and the regional service is only available if travel arrangements are secured in advance.
“There is only one trip in the morning and one in the afternoon on those days,” confirmed Meribeth Burton, BC Transit spokesperson. “This gentleman certainly raises an excellent point because by the time he gets there, he might only have time for a 15-minute visit before heading back out on the journey home.”
In addition to Brownie’s visual impairment, is a complete loss of hearing that further renders the multiple transit connections a burden to the soft-spoken retired contractor.
He contends that after living and driving the distance for decades, when abiding by the speed limit meant “see you in 16 or 17 minutes,” the lack of connectivity between the close-knit communities is perplexing.
“I am not interested in a long trip with miles and miles of scenery,” he said. “We have one of the best roads in our area that is flat and reasonably straight and minutes away. But not even the Handy Dart will give rides from Fruitvale to Salmo.”
Geographically there could be a better way to connect but the ridership now only supports the twice a week service, said Burton.
“If we have an audience and a ridership that is interested we want to provide convenient service,” she said, adding, “It happens in every community. If you have ridership and they appeal to their elected officials then that is how coverage expands and grows.”
One person taking Brownie’s lack of direct transport to heart is Ann Henderson, the three-term Mayor of Salmo.
“We’ve known each other a long time and I am going to submit Brownie’s letter of concern and have a talk with Randy Matheson (transit coordinator) at the regional district,” she confirmed after Nov. 26 council. “They’ve told me eventually there will be transit here,” said Henderson. “Hans Cunningham (Area G director) and I fought to get the additional Tuesday bus because people were being left behind,” she said. “Tonight (Monday) I signed a resolution to amalgamate the health connectors. Now we are asking, ‘Where’s our bus?’”
There is some affirmative news coming out of BC Transit because Phase 2 of the West Kootenay Transit plan includes the possibility of a bus line between the neighbouring communities, although the initiative is a few years away.
“The next phase is scheduled from 2016 to 2020, with a concept of rural connectivity which would include Salmo and Fruitvale,” said Burton. “It is part of the transit’s future plan.”
In addition to improved rural connectivity the second phase is based on improving ridership on the highest travelled corridors and to connect outlying communities to neighbouring communities, with new services implemented in areas where commuting potential exists.
“I cannot believe this enormous gap in service between Fruitvale and Salmo,” said Brownie. “The two communities have been closely associated for over a hundred years. And with Salmo building a senior’s complex, if you don’t drive, you will have to take up hitchhiking.”