A smaller bus that sticks to arrival and departure times six days a week – even in the Kootenay winter – is how Fritz Keller will be running his commuter line from Nelson to Kelowna beginning next month.
“Buses (Greyhound) were often late, some days by four or five hours,” Keller began. “Passengers had flights booked or appointments in Kelowna that they missed because of the late buses. We don’t have to wait for a westbound bus coming over the Kootenay Pass – we are always going to leave Nelson at exactly 6:30 in the morning and be in Kelowna around noon – even in the winter.”
Keller, owner of Silver City Stage Lines, was recently approved by the Passenger Transportation Board (Board) to be the replacement service for this particular route, once Greyhound Canada pulls the brakes effective Oct. 31.
Related story here: B.C. bus service prepares to replace Greyhound
He will run six round trips from Nelson to Kelowna departing 6:30 a.m. and arriving back at 6:30 p.m. – with route points in Trail, Castlegar, Grand Forks, Greenwood, Midway and Rock Creek.
The only day with no service will be Saturday.
Passengers in Trail, Castlegar and Nelson will be picked up from the A&W restaurant in those cities. Stops for gas and leg-breaks are scheduled at gas stations from Grand Forks to Rock Creek.
“The owners of A&W have confirmed the stops and are happy to have me,” he said. “People can wait inside, have a coffee and use the amenities. And there are nice coffee bars in the gas stations, so I can fill up (while) people grab a coffee, then we will be on our way.”
Keller’s plan is to be at Orchard Park Mall in Kelowna (this termination point is still tentative) by noon. He’ll head back to Nelson at 1 p.m. with an arrival time slated for 6:30 p.m.
“I’m getting such a good response, especially from my senior passengers,” Keller said. “I have a good relationship with them from over the last eight years (driving) the inter-city bus from Trail to Castlegar. People are really happy, and love the fact they will be in Kelowna by noon. It’s a really good service.”
The first order of business via the Board, however, is for Keller to have a booking website up and running by Sept. 30.
Once that is complete later this week or early next, he is planning on doing a blitz campaign to let riders know there will not be a gap in service sans Greyhound.
“Because I applied to do this as a small bus, it all has to be from reservations,” he explained. “And I knew when I applied that the only way I could do this is by keeping my overhead costs extremely low.”
Driving the inter-city bus line from Trail to Castlegar gave Keller unique insight into ridership numbers and needs.
The Board application outlines Keller’s service vehicle, as a 2011 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van, that accommodates 11 passengers plus a driver. A second vehicle will be used during the Christmas season (Dec. 18 to Jan. 4) to accommodate up to 22 passengers each way.
“I know exactly how many people I (drove) from Trail to Castlegar over eight years, and I also have a pretty good idea how many (are) in Nelson,” Keller said.
“That was the problem with Greyhound, they were running these big buses, 52-passenger buses, and they only had an average of 15 people on it.”