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Door opening for major transit expansion in Central Okanagan

Image Credit: FILE PHOTO
January 24, 2020 - 12:30 PM

Overcrowding at Kelowna’s transit garage is preventing the Central Okanagan transit system from expanding as much as it had hoped to this year but a solution is in sight for unlimited expansion starting next year.

A transit plan had proposed adding 1,500 more hours in the fall of this year but it had to be cut back to 950 hours because there’s not enough room to service the two extra buses that would need to be added to the fleet.

In a report going to city council Monday, Jan. 27, staff propose to take the HandyDART portion of the transit system out of its Hardy Street site and relocate it to a former city works yard on Crowley Avenue in the northend of downtown, opening up space for more transit buses.

That’s not likely to be operational until the winter or spring of 2021, which would be too late to add in the hoped for 550 hours this fall. But that should not leave riders stranded.

“Over the past number of months, we’ve been analyzing all the existing service,” Jerry Dombowsky, the city’s transit and programs manager, told “We’ve been able to eliminate some really unproductive runs on certain routes and we’ve been able to reallocate those service hours to the key pinch points where it’s really needed.”

The peak use of the system is when UBC Okanagan, Okanagan College and high schools are in session and there are peak hours of the day to reach those places. So, for example, if there’s a 6 a.m. bus on a route that generally runs empty, it has been cancelled so that bus can be used to service the university.

Once the HandyDART buses have been shifted to the new site – the lease for the current tenant runs until October – there will be plenty of room for future expansions of the fleet at Hardy Street.

The City is about to hire a consultant to do a study on the best location for a new transit garage that will be built to service an all-electric fleet. The preferred location is near the airport and UBCO, but the study has to show that really is the best place. A federal-provincial infrastructure grant will fund 80 per cent of the new facility. It must be finished by 2027 but Dombowsky hopes it will be done by 2025.

The report going to council Monday also talks about the need to concentrate growth around bus routes in order to make better use of the service. The goal is to eventually have buses running every 10 minutes at peak times on the busier routes on weekdays instead of 15 minutes, and weekend service on those routes to drop from 30 minutes to 15 minutes.

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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