Transit system a no go for rural NW B.C.

Results of a transit feasibility study for the area have finally been released, more than a year after it was initially completed.

Results of a transit feasibility study for the area have finally been released, more than a year after it was initially completed.

The study, which was completed by BC Transit in the fall of 2009, looked at options for a transit system connecting Vanderhoof, Fort St. James, Fraser Lake and the surrounding areas.

District of Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen says he’s disappointed with the findings that the study produced.

“We were hoping that it [the study] would produce something that would be quite feasible for the three areas,” said Thiessen.

“But when it came back it just appeared that our communities are just too small and too far apart from each other…it was very disappointing,” he said.

The study presented two options for a transit system, as well as three optional add-on services.

The first and most affordable option was a transit service which would run three days per week, making four round trips per day using a smaller accessible mini-bus. The route would include regional connections and in-town travel in each of the three communities. The service would also provide a round trip to Stoney Creek reserve and there would be the opportunity for door-to-door pick ups and drop offs for those with disabilities. The estimated cost for the service was $260,400 per year.

The second option was exactly the same as the first option but service would be provided five days in a week instead of three, a much more suitable service for college students with classes Monday-Friday. This option would cost an estimated $394,300 per year.

Optional service add-ons that were also presented in the study included a summer service to Cluculz Lake, a winter service to Murray Ridge Ski Hill and a year-round service from Vanderhoof to Prince George.

A summer service to Cluculz Lake was researched after a number of locals interviewed for the study, expressed an interest in using public transportation to access the lake in the summer months. The service would include one round trip, two days a week from June to August and would cost an estimated $11,900 per year.

A winter service to Murray Ridge would cost an estimated $8,900 per year for a service from Vanderhoof via Fort St. James for one round trip a day, one day a week from December to March.

An optional add on for a service from Vanderhoof to Prince George was also presented although was not recommended as a positive option by BC Transit. For one round trip on one day a week, the service would cost an estimated $23,800 per year. The fare to the passenger would also be increased due to the longer distance, and separate tickets would have to be purchased to use the Prince George Transit system. BC Transit strongly recommended in the study that an alternative option be considered which would involve the Northern Health Connections service opening up to accommodate other trip purposes instead of solely medical.

The estimated pricing costs for options one and two were based on the number of passengers using the service being in the range of 24,400 to 40,600 per year and due to long distances between communities and the need for two transit vehicles, it would cost funding partners $128 for every hour of service provided on the road or $10 or more for every passenger carried.

Although it would be possible to receive partial finding from BC Transit for a public transportation system, Mayor Thiessen said the costs would still be too high.

“It appears to us that it would cost somewhere in the range of $120,000 to run the transit system and it wouldn’t really do a lot of the help we were hoping it would,” said Thiessen.

“For example we were hoping that it would allow people to take transit to work…it’s probably tougher for transit in a small area where different employers start at different times.

“It’s not the standard case as seen in larger communities where you get a lot of people going to work at eight and coming home at five,” he said.

The study findings were based on visits to each community in June 2009 by BC Transit staff who held interviews with various stakeholders, and used demographic statistics, an inventory of current transportation providers, an analysis of demand of transit, and comparisons with other areas in BC of a similar size.

Interviews were held with representatives from the District of Fort St. James, Nak’azdli Health Centre, College of New Caledonia, Northern Health, District of Vanderhoof, School District 91, St. John Hospital, Fraser Lake Medicine Centre, Village of Fraser Lake, Fraser Lake Adult Learning Centre and the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako.

The objective of the study was to look into providing a service to seniors, those with a disability, low-income residents and the general public.

The general conclusion from BC Transit staff was that a transit service in the area would travel a high number of kilometres per day with relatively low ridership which would result in a high overall service cost, and encouraged Vanderhoof and its partners to look at less financially-intensive transportation options for residents such as volunteer driver and car-share programs and to look into the ability to partner with existing transportation providers such as Northern Health and School District 91 to deliver services.

“We’re kind of at a really tough place when it comes to transportation in the community…it’s very very difficult for senior citizens and people who don’t have a vehicle to get around,” said Thiessen.

“I think our public works crew has done an excellent job, especially recently with the amount of snow that we’ve had, to keep our streets clear…but still if you’re an elderly person and you have a doctors appointment or need groceries, it’s very difficult so were continuing to look for options,” he said.

He added that the District will be talking to the councils of the other two communities to see what their opinion of the study is. District staff have also been asked to go away and look at other forms of public transportation for the residents in Vanderhoof who don’t have their own vehicle.

“Staff have been asked to come back and report their findings to council so that we can discuss this…clearly for a town our size, having no transit isn’t acceptable and we need to work on it,” said Thiessen.