West Kelowna’s apparent desire to cut three under-utilized bus routes in order to add Bus Rapid Transit to the system seems to have hit a roadblock.
Despite ordering municipal staff at a meeting last month to prepare a communications plan based on the recommended “route rationalization” that would see buses serving the Smith Creek, Bear Creek and Horizon neighborhoods axed, council now appears to be having second thoughts.
“What are were telling the public?” asked Coun. Bryden Winsby when the communications plan was presented to council earlier this week.
It included an open house to be held from 4 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 11, advertising in the local media, and an online survey.
When Winsby was told it was not a community consultation about the bigger picture of transit on the Westside but rather about the recommended changes, he said that given the changes had not been endorsed by council, he did not want to “do an end run around the public.”
He proposed instead that an evening public meeting on transit be held in 2 1/2 weeks.
That attempt failed to win the required support to pass after chief administrative officer Jason Johnson tried, and failed, to find out from council what it wanted to ask the public about transit, if not the recommended changes.
Last month, representatives of B.C. Transit presented several options for the transit system in West Kelowna, including leaving it like it is, cutting the three routes—which account for just five per cent of total Westside ridership—and a more severe cut that would see just the most popular Glenrosa route kept along with the new Bus Rapid Transit addition.
The recommended change would see the Glenrosa, Shannon Lake and Boucherie routes kept and made more frequent during peak hours and have service hours added and the addition of the new Bus Rapid Transit route.
Bus Rapid Transit would connect Westbank to UBC Okanagan along Highway 97 through Kelowna with limited stops and frequent service.
B.C. Transit’s recommendation would cut the total cost of transit in West Kelowna by about $900,000 per year.
Of the total $3.6 million cost of transit here, the municipality currently pays about $1.4 million.
That figure is likely to drop to about $1.2 million after recent negotiations between the municipality and B.C. Transit.
But while there was little opposition expressed to the recommendation by council last month, the presentation of a communications plan to gather public response to the plan prompted councillors to put the brakes on the change.
“I don’t know where it leaves us,” said a perplexed Mayor Doug Findlater following the meeting.
He said he would meet with his councillors this week to figure out the next move.
Some councillors, like Rosalind Neis, fear once routes are taken away from an area it will be years before they are reinstated.
Others, like Carol Zanon fear a lack of public transit could hurt future development and the desirability to live in areas like Smith Creek and Rose Valley.
But Coun. Duane Ophus said the addition of Bus Rapid Transit is a expansion of the service that will give more people a reason to ride the bus.
In the end council opted to have municipal staff identify the next steps to implement changes to the transit system after talking more to B.C. Transit about the options it has already presented.