Study sets course for future of Penticton transit

City faces a growing demand for increased HandyDart service

Next month, the public may have a chance to comment on what the future of public transit should look like as preliminary options from the Penticton Transit Study are brought forward.

John Hicks and Steven Harvard presented those options to council earlier this month, breaking it down into three categories: status quo; reduction or expansion.

“Transit is a darned if you do, darned if you don’t situation for many municipalities, ours included,” said Mayor Dan Ashton.

“With the demographics that we are facing, transit is becoming more and more important. We have to make sure we have not only the scheduling, but the frequency of times to make it viable.”

All three options, however, share some of the same factors, including an increased emphasis on education and marketing of the Penticton Transit system and enhancing the HandyDart system, which Hicks said they have identified as a serious issue.

“HandyDart is desperately in demand and demand is far outstripping supply,” said Hicks. “There seems to be a strong latent demand by users, who have basically lapsed from the system because they don’t feel it’s convenient.”

According to Coun. Garry Litke, that jibes with the input he has been receiving from community members.

“I have received a number of calls from people who sometimes have to wait as long as two weeks in order to get a ride on the HandyDart. For many of them, that is their only opportunity for transportation,” said Litke. “That’s just not good enough service.”

Under the first option, very little would change, according to Hicks, other than considering adjustments to the Sunday and evening services.

The second option of reduction would maintain much of the system as is, but would reduce the number of routes from five to four, resulting in the loss of conventional service to some areas outside of the city’s core. It would also free up some resources.

“That would then be allocated to HandyDart, and an additional HandyDart vehicle would be a priority in that particular option,” said Hicks. Again, there would also be some adjustments to Sunday and the night service.

The third option allows for a little expansion across the network.

“Essentially, it would see the main core, along Main Street, with an increased frequency,” said Hicks. “It would go from the current 30 minutes to 20 minutes, offering very frequent service, aimed at increasing attractiveness to various demographics.”

This option also includes adjustment to Sunday bus service, adjusting the lake-to-lake route and adding a bus on route 5, Main Street, to the mix.

“Contingency hours would also be added to allow, at the discretion of council, for special events under this proposal,” said Hicks. “Education and marketing are big priorities we would like to see with all three options introduced. To sell what we have, get the message out there, look at the riders’ guides and look at the best way to inform the community.”

Hicks said they are also considering other alternatives along with the major options, including the use of smaller “Vicinity” buses like the one on trial in Penticton currently, and connections with Naramata buses.

“Transfers with Naramata is an issue we hope to address and put up for consideration,” said Hicks. “At the moment, there are two fare structures for the two systems.”

Hicks hopes to take the options to public consultation in May with the goal of bringing formal recommendations to council in June.

“Then we would be able to work on the schedules and changes for September, with the idea of implementing any possible changes for next year, depending on the supply of vehicles,” said Hicks.