Motorists might only require 15 minutes to reach their destination, but transit users, especially those with a disability, at times need an hour or more to get around the Comox Valley, Michael McLellan told Courtenay council last month.
“I am a person with a disability who takes transit at least six days a week,” said McLellan, a visually-impaired resident who considers transit an essential service. “It took us a long time to build up our transit system to where it is today. I feel it is majorly important to continue to improve the transit system in order to keep the level of ridership high.”
He says half of bus-stop activity occurs at 10 of the 280 stops in the Valley, seven in Courtenay. The top three are at the intersection of Cliffe Avenue and Fourth Street, Driftwood Mall and North Island College.
BC Transit officials spoke about the final phases of a Comox Valley Transit Future Plan last week at council and at regional district committee of the whole. The 25-year plan identifies key corridors and considers other factors such as the physical benefits of walking to and from a bus stop. It also notes that motorists spend $8,000 to $14,000 per year to run a vehicle while transit users fork out $635 a year to take the bus.
Courtenay Coun. Starr Winchester feels Valley transit can be delivered more efficiently without yearly tax hikes. Year after year, she has advocated for smaller buses.
“It’s a huge issue for Courtenay residents,” she said. “I’ve lived here 64 years. I’ve never seen a full bus.”
McLellan agrees buses could be smaller than currently used but larger than handyDART vehicles.
Daniel Pizarro, senior regional transit manager at BC Transit, said the cost of a smaller, light duty bus is less expensive than running a larger bus.
“We hope through this process you see a mixed fleet,” he told council.
The CVRD would like to put more people on local buses. Michael Zbarsky, manager of transit and sustainability, notes boardings per hour are a little below that of peer communities.
The goal of the Future Plan is to increase ridership in a cost-effective manner, and to align with the region’s town centres.
Public feedback indicates overwhelming support for a Frequent Transit Network where service every 15 minutes at peak times would connect key centres of Cumberland, Driftwood Mall/Anfield Centre, downtown Courtenay and Comox, North Island College and the new regional hospital.
Short-term priorities include improving the frequency and structure to routes 12 (North Valley Connector), 7 (Arden) and 2 (Cumberland), and expanding service on routes 6 (Uplands) and 10 (Royston).
A draft of the plan will be available for public review and comment in August. It will come back to the CVRD board for adoption in September.
Initial strategies are to be implemented in January.