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Hard-driving questions for BC Transit expansion from West Kelowna councillor

BC Transit delegation updated council on regional transit service
A bus stopped at the Queensway Transit Exchange in downtown Kelowna. (Black Press file photo)

West Kelowna council heard an update on growth and expansion plans for Kelowna Regional Transit (KRT) at its Jan. 24 regular meeting.

James Wadsworth, manager of project development with BC Transit, told council they are planning for population growth. He used the Victoria system, which has 350 buses, as an example of where Kelowna transit could be within the next several years.

“We did a forecast and we think we need a plan that supports 230 buses,“ said Wadsworth.

KRT currently has a stable of 110 busses at its Hardy Road facility, which was designed for 70 vehicles. In April 2022, the City of Kelowna was successful in having 40 acres of property removed from the agricultural land reserve to make way for a new transit facility south of UBC Okanagan.

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Wadsworth noted that the design process for the project will cost approximately $4 million. That was a concern for Coun. Rob Friesen.

“It’s massive, that’s a lot of money,” he said.

Wadsworth added the price tag was reasonable considering the planning involved.

”You’re talking engineering services, site investigations, road, and building design, and there’s a lot of engagement time with the public and local governments,” he explained.

Wadsworth also noted the project is eligible for a federal grant.

“If you’re doing a project like that you have to have a pretty good business case, and we will be developing a business case that will lay out the rationale for why and how we’re doing it.”

Council agreed to write a letter in support of a grant application. The presentation also included forecasts and plans for growth within KRT.

Friesen added that while he appreciated the report, he still struggled with the investment West Kelowna makes in transit.

He noted that geography and density in outlying areas of the community make it difficult to provide a constant, adequate, and cost-effective service.

“I’m not being controversial, but I am challenging and asking how do we make this work? I do think it’s important. I do want to see fewer cars on the road. I’m just not sure that the current model is going to make that happen.”

Friesen also challenged the BC Transit delegation to think outside the box in delivering service and efficiencies.

“We have individuals that rely on it a hundred per cent,” he said. “But how do we get it so that it’s more reliable? How do we get it so that it’s more user-friendly and understand that it all comes at a cost?

Chelsea Mossey, senior manager with BC Transit Kelowna, said they are looking at innovative solutions, citing digital on-demand transit via smartphone as an example.

“That’s certainly a trend that we’re seeing throughout the transit industry,” she said. “It’s not always to say that there’s necessarily efficiencies found, but there is in some cases improved effectiveness from the perspective of the rider.”

Digital on-demand transit could end up as a pilot project in the KTR in 2024.

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Gary Barnes

About the Author: Gary Barnes

Journalist and broadcaster for three decades.
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