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West Kelowna cuts back bus service

Starting Sept. 1, fewer buses will be roaming the streets of West Kelowna.

On Tuesday, council opted to cut a total of 3,700 service hours in advance of the implementation of Bus Rapid Transit in 2014.

Michelle Orfield, senior urban transportation planner with B.C. Transit, gave council information on West Kelowna service hours and ridership. She also gave suggestions of how the district can improve efficiency and increase cost recovery within its transit system.

She said that Routes 27, 28 and 29—which service Horizon, Smith Creek and Bear Creek, respectively—have the lowest ridership. She suggested adjusting service to weekday, peak hours only: A move that would save the district 1,250 service hours.

At Orfield’s last visit to council in February, a debate arose whether or not Glenrosa should continue to get service every 15 minutes during peak hours and 30 minutes during off peak hours.

On Tuesday, Orfield illustrated to council that although Route 21 Glenrosa accounted for 60 per cent of West Kelowna’s ridership, most passengers were getting off somewhere along Highway 97 and not continuing to ride the bus up into the actual Glenrosa neighbourhood.

Orfield concluded that current Glenrosa ridership doesn’t support the existing level of service; therefore, she suggested changing service to every 30 minutes during peak hours and every hour during off-peak hours.

Finally, Orfield recommended that night service be offered until 10 p.m. on Routes 20, 21 and 24, while the Highway 97 Express route also receives late night service Friday and Saturday.

In order to accommodate Bus Rapid Transit without having a tax impact on Westside residents, the district was required to reduce the number of annual service hours by 1,500.

Coun. Rick de Jong felt that the recommended cuts were “too frugal.”

“I think it is the wrong move,” said de Jong.

“I can understand we need to be cost conscious. . .but the feeder routes aren’t being supported. If the feeder routes aren’t going to be there, unless we’re prepared to put a park and ride in downtown Westbank, I don’t see how this is going to work.”

Coun. David Knowles was also against Orfield’s recommendations.

“You have to have your feeder routes to bring the people to the main route—that’s the way West Kelowna is built,” said Knowles.

“Why would we take a brand new Westbank service, with a multi-million dollar capital expenditure, and cut it back so severely? It makes no sense to me.”

But Coun. Duane Ophus said that the district couldn’t afford to continue paying for empty buses to circulate throughout the community.

“The reason this discussion about transit and routing started was (because) we were, and still are, running a whole bunch of empty buses all over the District of West Kelowna, operating at a level far in excess of what is reasonable for a community with the makeup of ours,” said Ophus.

Ophus mentioned that the recommendations are a good start towards creating a more efficient transit system.

Mayor Doug Findlater said that he is aware that some will be upset with the decision; however, he suggested it will better the majority of the community.

“Whatever we do on this, we will impact on someone in some way; there will be someone who is adversely affected and we’ll hear about it,” said Findlater.

“In the long term, far more are going to be positively affected by what we (are doing), getting into the Bus Rapid Transit and finding a way to do it in an affordable way.”

He added that although there are a few cuts that will have to be made, overall the level of transit service is improving in West Kelowna.

Council voted five to two in favour of Orfield’s recommendations. Knowles and de Jong were opposed.

wpaterson@kelownacapnews.com

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