Local transit users are asking for more frequent service based on surveys conducted by BC Transit.
Daniel Pizzaro, senior regional transit manager, said BC Transit conducted the most extensive survey in their history throughout the South Okanagan and Similkameen and found users want more service during weeknights, Sundays, special events and riders are looking for more inter-regional connections.
As part of the first phase of the plan, which Pizarro expects to be in place within 12 to 18 months, a consolidated riders guide will help travellers who are going from one community to another. He said each municipality currently plans riders guide and schedules separately.
“Similar to what we’ve done in other communities like the West Kootenay, is bring all of those schedules and guides into one so that from a customer perspective, it’s just a lot easier to travel from Princeton up to Nakusp, or to Osoyoos or Kelowna, or wherever you’re going.”
That same efficiency will be applied to an online application, which will connect the region through Google’s trip planner.
“It actually eliminates the need even for riders guides, because you simply type in where your starting point is and where you want to go, and it gives you a list of routes and the times.”
Pizzaro said BC Transit is also finding new efficiencies in connecting the regional routes. He said some routes could probably be eliminated through regionalization and reassigned to a more demanding area. Other routes could include more stops.
“For example, we have trips at the moment that travel directionally from Summerland to Penticton, or from Osoyoos all the way to Kelowna,” he said. “You don’t want to be running duplication of service because it is inefficient.”
BC Transit explained to city council, during their July 6 regular meeting how Penticton fits into their 25-year regional plan.
The Okanagan Similkameen Transit Future Plan expects the regional system to take riders on 1.74 million trips by the year 2040, as was explained during the presentation.
The lion’s share of those numbers come from within Penticton; there are 454,000 annual rides currently taking place in the city, and that number is expected to rise in 25 years to 1.2 million. The current number of riders accounts for 1.5 per cent of the city’s population, and BC Transit predicts that rate will increase to three per cent.
“Why are you so conservative with your numbers?” Coun. Helena Konanz asked. “I’m hoping that with all the work that goes into this, all the money over the next 25 years, that we’re going to spend on transit, that is goes up more than 1.5 per cent, double to three per cent of the Penticton population just doesn’t seem very optimistic.”
Pizzaro, said those rates were calculated through Penticton’s Official Community Plan and regional growth strategy.
“It’s a realistic target based on the population growth projections,” he told the Western News. “For the amount of effort and time it doesn’t seem that huge an increase, however for every per cent increase in (total trips) there are obviously associated costs.”
However he said the plan is a flexible document that can be amended.
“The last thing we want to see is expanding a system to run empty buses.”
The transit plan lists Cherry Lane Shopping Centre as the central hub for buses in Penticton, and Mayor Andrew Jakubeit asked if there was a way for the city’s downtown to host the central rendezvous point.
“It’s something that within the plan that we can certainly work with the City of Penticton,” Pizzaro said. “Also you have to keep in mind that there’s an added consideration for infrastructure because you need, obviously, the base for the bus stop. At Cherry Lane there’s already spaces there for three or four buses.”