BC Transit says it will improve service in the West Kootenay. Photo: Mike Chouinard

BC Transit says it will improve service in the West Kootenay. Photo: Mike Chouinard

With ridership bursting, BC Transit plans new West Kootenay services

Several upgrades are scheduled to be made in 2023

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

Transit riders in the West Kootenay will be seeing some changes to service over the next few years.

BC Transit got its stamp of approval from local politicians on plans for improving public transportation in the West Kootenay at the August board meeting of the RDCK.

The board passed a motion accepting the Crown corporation’s Transit Future Plan for the area, as well as receiving an update on upcoming changes to the service.

BC Transit government relations manager Seth Wright told the board there were a couple of new initiatives about to be implemented.

Starting Sept. 1, kids under 12 will ride the buses for free. The move will “help create lifelong transit riders, building better, more inclusive and sustainable communities,” Wright told the board. The province will cover any potential fare losses.

A second big change will be in October, when Arrow and Slocan Lakes Community Services (ASLCS) no longer operates any bus routes except the Wednesday medical bus from Nakusp to Vernon and Kelowna. A Trail company called NextGen Transit will be taking over all of ALSCS’s routes except that one.

“This agreement is expected to improve service in the region while providing a greater investment in the maintenance, training and leadership of the overall transit system,” said Wright, who also thanked ASLCS for their work as operators.

Senior transit planner Adriana McMullen also spoke to some of the ideas for improvements or changes to service in the months or years to come, including: reversing a decision to cancel the weekly bus from Argenta to Kaslo; improving connection times and routes in the southern Slocan Valley, starting one route out of Slocan City, and adding new trips between Nakusp and Slocan; ensuring the Route 74 bus stops at the New Denver Health Centre; adding a summer weekly service between Kaslo and Silverton; improving the Kootenay Connector routes 98 and 99 to Selkirk College at rush hour; improving routes in and around Nelson, including to Salmo and Balfour; improving service in Castlegar.

However, these ideas, although scheduled to be implemented in 2023, are not a done deal. Since the changes may cost money or affect schedules or service, the RDCK board will be able to approve them before they are implemented. But Wright said it was important to get the items into the hopper now, before they are needed.

“Unfortunately for a lot of these options, it takes a year-and-a-half to implement. So to not have them in a plan … it doesn’t give any lead time. There’s a lot of background work that has to happen. That’s why we put things in a plan,” he said. “It also allows staff to develop costing for you. When considering these options, should the board consider them, staff can say, ‘well, this is what it will cost for these services.’”

Transit ridership in the West Kootenay transit system has skyrocketed in recent years, increasing by nearly 60 per cent since 2013. It is among the fastest growing of all medium-sized BC Transit systems.

“High passenger loads combined with community interest in reducing carbon emissions, ongoing growth in outlying areas, and demand generated by international students provide opportunity for further investment in the development of transit,” Transit officials said.