Waiting for a bus that never arrives is now part of the McIntyre family’s routine.
Tasha McIntyre lives in Krestova, and her 16-year-old son Ross uses public transit to commute to Nelson. At least he tries to — sometimes the bus doesn’t show up at nearby Playmor Junction, and there’s no update to the BC Transit website to say if there’s a delay.
“Other people we’ll see sitting at the bus stops are ladies with walkers sitting on the side of the road when I drive by them knowing the bus hasn’t come, but they’re still waiting for a bus that’s not going to show up,” said McIntyre.
Transit service on the 99 Kootenay Connector route — which runs between Nelson and Castlegar — and the 20 Slocan Valley route between the Junction and Slocan City, has become a game of wait-and-see for commuters.
BC Transit has committed to an increase in West Kootenay service in 2023 that includes improved connection times in the Slocan Valley. A BC Transit spokesperson told the Nelson Star in an email that a labour shortage is hampering efforts by Trail’s NextGen Transit, which manages the routes, to find drivers.
“There are currently two applicants preparing to go through training. Once they join the NextGen team, the current challenges in meeting our full service schedule should be resolved.”
Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) Area H director Walter Popoff, who represents communities in the south Slocan Valley, said he believes NextGen lost approximately 20 per cent of their drivers during the pandemic.
The RDCK, Popoff added, has been working with NextGen to find new drivers for the routes. But he doesn’t know why the Slocan Valley service appears to be more impacted than others.
“I’m fully aware that if you’re standing out there waiting for the bus, and the bus doesn’t show on its schedule to show, that you’re a little bit upset,” he said. “I’d be quite a bit upset.”
Tom Dool, an RDCK research analyst who manages transit, said the driver shortage has been an issue across the regional district.
The HandyDart door-to-door service for commuters such as seniors who require assistance, Dool said, has been a particular challenge to find drivers for in Nakusp and the Slocan Valley.
“It’s been a real struggle, and we’ve been hearing loud and clear from the ridership,” said Dool. “We’ve been doing everything we can to work with our partners at BC Transit and at NextGen to get the word out there. Everybody’s working as hard as they can.”