Monday, April 15, 2024
April 15, 2024

Transit ‘pass-ups’ alarm LCC

Data showing how many locals get left behind when Salt Spring’s buses fill up has island officials reexamining whether expanding service should be a priority — appurtenant costs notwithstanding. 

BC Transit senior government relations manager Seth Wright told Salt Spring Local Community Commission (LCC) if they thought next year’s budget might allow for a service expansion, the time to plan was now. Wright came to the LCC’s meeting Thursday, March 21 to deliver an update on ridership trends for island passengers and possibly start the conversation for 2025. 

Overall, ridership is strong, Wright said — sometimes exceeding capacity in ways that affect local passengers the most. Salt Spring is a “very seasonal system,” according to Wright, who noted the island’s ridership increased counter to larger cities — where school getting out for the summer break meant a drop in numbers.  

“But this is a tourist community,” said Wright. “We were carrying a lot of people every month.” 

Wright said although BC Transit this year became the first transit authority in North America to recover ridership 100 per cent to pre-pandemic levels, Salt Spring has been a little slower at it than other similarly sized transit systems, such as Mount Waddington and Port Alberni — adding that it wasn’t altogether unexpected. 

“People in those communities often take transit because they don’t have an option of transportation modes,” said Wright. “They are beholden to take the bus, and it’s often a product of poverty. On Salt Spring, there are a lot more people that choose to take the bus because of environmental or social values.” 

Perhaps the most eye-opening chart showed “pass-ups,” particularly along the Fulford-Ganges route, quantifying the number of people who were waiting along the road hoping to catch the bus but were thwarted by it being fully occupied. Drivers count those missed passengers, Wright said, and the data showed the Fulford-Ganges route — which moves half the riders in the entire island system — contributed the “lion’s share” of pass-ups, largely peaking between 5 and 7 p.m. 

“Most of those are in the summer,” said Wright, “and they’re not exclusively on the weekend as one might expect; they’re scattered throughout the week, although worse on weekends.” 

That meant it was generally local riders who would be passed by buses that had been filled up by tourists arriving at the ferry terminal in Fulford. Finding a means to capture revenue from those tourists without negatively affecting local riders was a topic of debate during the LCC’s budget discussions back in September, when LCC member Ben Corno had expressed unease with asking local riders to shoulder higher fares to avoid raising property taxes. 

“This is a conversation we’re going to have,” said Corno on Thursday. “I think we have to accept that this is conversation about a budget increase, or a fare increase.” 

LCC member Brian Webster said while there was a great deal of pride in the community surrounding the bus service, there was also objective value there. 

“Both in terms of climate impacts,” said Webster, “and in terms of service to people who have lower incomes. One of our highest priorities should be not just maintaining but improving transit service.” 

Commissioners agreed, voting to set aside time in a future agenda for a detailed discussion on options for expanding transit service. Wright said with provincial planning cycles tending to start wrapping up in September, June or earlier would be the best time to have him back for that in-depth discussion.

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