Smaller buses will be back on Penticton bus routes in 2013, thanks to city council reversing a decision made just over a month ago.
In early September, staff informed council about disappointing results from a trial of one of B.C. Transit’s Vicinity buses. Response to the 30-seat bus had not been good, either from riders or drivers. Concerns included having only one spot for wheelchairs, and limited accessibility via the bus’s single door.
The buses still have only a single door, but council has decided to accept a B.C. Transit offer of two of the buses on a six-month trial.
The offer, said director of operations Mitch Moroziuk, came in late September in a letter outlining improvements made to the Vicinity bus in the production version, addressing several of the concerns.
“The bus can now accommodate two wheelchairs,” said Moroziuk, adding a laundry list of fixes, including: changes to electrical controls, a volume control on the stop bells, and updating the dashboard layout for the drivers.
“There are some items that they have not been able to address,” he said. “There is still only one door on the bus, there is a wide door swing, so the driver has to be careful when he opens the door. There is a smaller lower floor area as compared to the Nova buses. Overall, there is a smaller seating capacity.”
Looking at ridership statistics, Moroziuk estimated there was an average of 1.4 to 1.69 people per trip with some kind of mobility impairment. Since not all of those would be using wheelchairs or scooters, he felt that the increase to two wheelchair positions would significantly reduce the chances of a driver having to leave a disabled person waiting at a bus stop.
“We basically have found that the lower floor area will have sufficient room . There will be times, though, where it won’t,” said Moroziuk. “There are also going to be times when people in the lower floor area will have to move into the upper floor area to provide access and room for someone with a higher level of disability.”
B.C. Transit, Moroziuk continued, understood there might be some reluctance, and so were offering what he called a “win-win” deal, swapping two of the existing Nova buses for the smaller ones, starting in May 2013.
“If it was found that they meet our needs, they would be permanently transferred to our fleet,” said Moroziuk. If there were issues that could be fixed, B.C. Transit would do so, and again, Penticton would have two new additions to the fleet.
“If we simply found that’s not the bus for us, they would give us back the Nova buses that we had,” he said. “During that trial period, we would only be charged the lease rate for the smaller Vicinity bus, which is less, and we would only be charged the gas rate for the smaller bus and we would not be charged at all for the Nova buses.”
Coun. Andrew Jakubeit noted that B.C. Transit was essentially asking Penticton to beta-test the buses, questioning whether Transit might be willing to put up more incentives. Jakubeit suggested that Transit might also put some marketing dollars on the table, citing concerns about public response.
“Because they are not going to phone B.C. Transit, they are going to phone us. And they are going to blame us,” said Jakubeit. “I am open to looking at it (Vicinity bus) again, but obviously it is a little more saleable if there is some other incentives to help increase ridership.”
Mayor Dan Ashton, as he called for the vote that would see council endorse the new trial deal as is, said that a 25 per cent cost reduction, even for six months, was incentive enough.
When the buses arrive, Moroziuk said they would most likely be put to work on the two west side routes, as well as the night and Sunday routes.