Mount Boucherie Senior Secondary students could be seen huddled around classroom windows Tuesday as they watched local politicians speak at a press conference held in their school’s parking lot.
The gathering was to remind the media and public that construction will begin this summer to ensure RapidBus transit service is available from Westbank Centre to UBCO in summer 2014.
The location for the announcement was symbolic as transit service was a top concern for students at last year’s West Kelowna Mayor’s Youth Forum.
BC Transit chief operating officer and vice-president of operations Mike Davis also announced several open houses will be held throughout the week on the Westside to show artistic renderings of the new exchanges and gather input on the design phase of the project.
The West Kelowna expansion includes construction of two new transit exchanges at Westbank Centre and Boucherie Mountain.
Davis said the implementation of RapidBus service will “move transit up a notch” in West Kelowna.
“When you travel to a community you’re not very familiar with, (you) will ride subways and trams because the tracks are there, you know where it’s going to go. With the buses, you’re not too sure about where they’re going to go,” said Davis.
“RapidBus is trying to do that same thing, to get a fixed image in people’s minds: OK, this will take me to downtown Kelowna, to Orchard Park mall, to UBCO, seamlessly and easily—I don’t need to be afraid of it.”
Davis noted ridership has been up 10 per cent since the opening of the first phase or RapidBus service in Kelowna.
“It’s partly the marketing, partly the community knowledge and partly just the continued growth around here. But it’s clearly made a difference.”
In February 2012, West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater said he felt Elliott Road was a poor choice for the proposed Westbank Centre transit exchange location.
After seeing the newest design proposals, Findlater has changed his opinion.
“I think this will work,” said Findlater.
“There may have been other options, but that’s in the past. We’ll move forward because this is, overall, good for the downtown Westbank area.”
According to Davis, work has been done to ensure traffic won’t get overly congested near the location of the proposed Westbank Centre exchange.
“There will be a bus only lane, left turn lanes in both directions have been put back…and we’ve been working with the Ministry of Transportation to make sure the signal timings on both ends of Elliott Road are fine-tuned,” said Davis.
Findlater said RapidBus service will bring the district one step closer to revitalizing the downtown area.
“We’ll be able to attract a resident who may not want to even have a car, or who uses a car sparingly. (He/she) can hop on a bus and go to Kelowna or UBCO…this is going to improve the system for everyone,” said Findlater.
Westside-Kelowna MLA Ben Stewart added improvements to the transit system will benefit the environment.
“One of the best ways to be eco-friendly is to support the use of public transit,” said Stewart.
Once complete, the entire Kelowna RapidBus project will include six new or improved exchanges, four new stations, branded shelters and real-time passenger information displays.
The total cost of the project is estimated to be $44.5 million.
The federal government is contributing up to $10.9 million from the Building Canada Fund and another $6 million from the Gas Tax Fund. The provincial government is providing $23.9 million. The City of Kelowna is adding $5.2 million in funding and West Kelowna is contributing land.
Open houses will be held Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon at Save-on-Foods on Dobbin Road and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at 3717 Elliott Rd., as well as Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon at Okanagan Lake Shopping Centre and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Super 8 Hotel near Westgate Road.