Attitudes towards transit expected to shift dramatically in Central Okanagan | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna News

Attitudes towards transit expected to shift dramatically in Central Okanagan

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Even while the Central Okanagan transit system is struggling to find ways to boost service next fall, there are much bigger things to come. This despite the fact that citizen surveys in both Kelowna and West Kelowna last year found more than 80 per cent of those asked never take a bus.

A consultant working on a regional transportation plan thinks that’s about to change quickly, citing an example of a transportation plan he completed three years ago for a city that did not even contemplate having a transit system. Now it’s demanding it gets one right away.

“Just because people aren’t saying they want transit today we have to think about, first of all, the millennials who did not take up cars the same way my generation did,” consultant Stephen Power told West Kelowna city council recently. “Twenty years from now they will be the people who make up the bulk of the population and their trends today are going to be an indicator for the future – so we should be planning for it. I would be really careful about looking at today’s questionnaire – it’s important, it's about what we have to do today - but we also need to be looking forward.”

Another thing pushing ridership is the new ICBC insurance system that is hitting new drivers hard.

“Given the increase in insurance rates that we’re going to see, especially for the millennials and for young drivers, transit is going to be pushed with a much greater demand,” West Kelowna councillor Jason Friesen said. “Kids can’t afford to have cars. It’s just going to be impossible - at $5,000, $6,000 a year for insurance, they’re not going to have cars. They’ll just have to take transit.”

Councillor Carol Zanon talked about the explosive increase in the use of e-scooters, noting some U.S. cities have people renting the scooters to get to and from transit stops.

Throw into the mix the fact that the Central Okanagan school district is doing a review of its transportation system with one option being to send more children to school on city buses. Right now, more than 5,000 students ride school buses to and from school every day while 7,000 wanted to. The schools eat up more than $3 million in operating funds to subsidize its bus service – money that could be going into classrooms.

The first roadblock to overcome is the bottleneck at the Hardy Street bus garage.

“It’s all about the bus-to-service bay ratio,” Jerry Dombowsky, Kelowna’s transit and programs manager explained to “We’re well above the acceptable standard for B.C. Transit servicing schedules.”

There’s not enough room to add two buses to the fleet of 108 in order to add 5,000 hours of trips starting next September but given the time available, Dombowsky is actively working on solutions.

One option is to empty a bay currently used to store parts and use that for servicing buses but that would mean constructing another building at the overcrowded Hardy Street site because the parts need to be close to hand. Other options include leasing space or relocating HandiDart.

Dombowsky expects to have a report with recommended solutions to city council before the 2020 budget is set in December.

He also pointed out that the 5,000 hours have not yet been approved by council so there may be other options or timing for expansion.

What’s needed is a new garage that’s set up to charge electric buses. The city bought land between the airport and UBCO but still has to put together the rationale for that site before presenting it to B.C. Transit.

There is already funding in place from a federal-provincial program that will pay 80 per cent of the cost, with local governments picking up the rest. The total cost estimates range from $50 to $70 million.

That report should be done by the end of March. Dombowsky has no idea how long it will take to get approval up the line. It will take another year to design the project. He’s hoping it will be open well before the 2027 funding deadline.

It’s only then that the fleet can start to be converted to electric buses since it makes no sense to install charges in the existing garage.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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