New regional bus routes attracting more passengers

Ridership is way up since the launch of the expanded West Kootenay bus routes three months ago.

More people are hopping on board the bus following the launch of expanded West Kootenay routes three months ago.

Since July, passengers have hitched a ride on the West Kootenay Transit Committee’s integrated regional system that created three zones, including the Columbia zone, which melds Castlegar, Trail, Fruitvale and Rossland, Slocan zone (Playmor Junction up to Slocan City), and the Kootenay zone, which includes Nelson, with an all-zone or regional pass.

“The Columbia zone ridership is up 19,000 trips this September compared to last,” said Meribeth Burton, BC Transit spokesperson.

“It is sizable jump and good or better than we anticipated.”

The goal of the committee was to develop a transit system for the area, where someone can board the bus in Trail and travel straight through to Castlegar, the Slocan Valley, Nakusp or Nelson and all points in between.

“Combined route travels from Trail to Selkirk College grew from 3,768 trips to 4,575 this year,” said Burton.

“In general it appears that we have a good foundation for an integrated system and will continue to build on that.”

Ridership increases in the Kootenay zone, specifically the Number 99 route from Castlegar to Nelson and the Number 11 route that connects Balfour to Nelson, both saw an 11 per cent revenue jump. In response, BC Transit is currently reviewing the need to add extra trips to those routes, as well as increasing boarding opportunities in the Slocan zone.

“We’ve been hearing for years these are the pattern that people were looking for,” said Burton.

“It’s exciting that more people are making those connections whether it is for school or work and the transition between.”

Although the WK Transit system requires a few tweaks according to rider feedback, the strong ridership in the corridors is encouraging, said Burton.

“It is early days but I think the system will continue to grow as more people become aware of it.”

Prior to the change, people had to purchase two top ups, paying as much as $5.50 to travel across the multiple service areas and consult several different rider guides to figure out how to get there.

The integrated service introduced the all-zone fare of $3.50 along with a cohesive guide and a four-month semester pass available to any student within the region for $125.

The future of public transit across British Columbia is under provincial review and a key strategy in the government’s climate action agenda.

When people chose public transportation over using a vehicle for travel, transit services provide a range of benefits, from reduced road congestion to lower greenhouse gas emission, cites the agenda.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure released a provincial transit plan in 2008, aimed at substantially expanding public transit province-wide by the end of 2020.

A recent audit of that plan revealed that it is falling short of its 2020 goal, and in response has launched a web-based resource called “Shaping Transit’s Future in British Columbia,” aimed to raise public awareness about the transit system and the challenges it faces.

The website contains information about policy, governance and funding recommendations for BC Transit and local governments to consider as they work to increase ridership and develop a sustainable transportation system.

“Public transit is a complex subject with multiple stakeholders,” said Auditor General Russ Jones. “This website will help demystify and unite a variety of sources of information.”

BC Transit is responsible for transit across the province, operating 81 systems that serve 130 communities, in partnership with 58 local governments.

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