Nelsonites took 297,000 transit rides in 2015-16, 10 per cent more than in the previous year, according to BC Transit.
Local transit advocate Barry Nelson is pleased, and he’s got suggestions for further improvement.
“It is wonderful to see an increase and the positive changes made over last couple of years,” he said. “There are obviously things that would increase that again though, one being Sunday service in Nelson.”
BC Transit’s Daniel Pizarro, in an email to the Star, said the increase is due to the added Saturday service on the Kootenay Connector, which runs between Nelson and Castlegar with connections to Kaslo and Trail.
BC Transit is a provincial crown corporation that oversees transit across the province outside the Lower Mainland, and splits transit costs 50-50 with local governments.
Pizarro said another factor is the six per cent increase in the purchase of monthly passes, and a remarkable 45 per cent increase in the purchase of semester passes, 923 of which were sold during the year.
The increases follow major changes to the West Kootenay transit system in 2013 in which five local transit systems’ fares and schedules were amalgamated.
Trail and Castlegar combined saw a seven per cent increase in ridership (367,000 rides) in 2015-16 for the fiscal year ending April 1.
Pizarro cited the increase in the purchase of passes, and “the continued influx of international students to Selkirk College and their propensity to remain in the area after school terms.”
In the smaller local routes including the Slocan Valley, ridership increased by eight per cent, “likely due in part to the added Saturday trip on the Route 20 Slocan Valley and the Saturday schedule changes to reduce interval times on the Route 20 and the Route 99 Kootenay Connector.”
Barry Nelson said he thinks BC Transit and the regional transit committee are listening to transit users and he cited the recent relocation of the bus stop in the Chako-Mika mall after public pressure.
“This is something that riders requested. It took a year, but it got done. And some of the changes of service also, like the bus to the Superstore — that was the ridership requesting that. Those are positive signs that they are listening.”
But Nelson wants to see further changes.
“They could improve some of the afternoon service to Rosemont. It is basically one-hour service. If that was improved that would help. And there is a run in the Uphill section (leaving Baker and Ward) at 7:36 and 8:35 a.m.
“If someone has to be at work at 9:00 and they catch this bus they could never get to work on time, and the other is too early.”
Nelson also reiterated that Sunday service is needed in the city
“We looked at this last year, and for $7.00 a year tax increase, there would be no extra cost to operate a bus from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Sundays, one bus doing three routes. The buses are just sitting there. You would have to hire a driver of course.”
And Nelson doesn’t think BC Transit or local governments promote transit enough.
“In order to increase transit, there needs to be money put into promotion of the service. This can be done in multiple ways at a very low cost.”
Corrine Younie heads Nelson’s Age Friendly Initiative, a project of Nelson Cares. She told the Star this week that she is glad to hear of the increases in rider numbers and she hopes her program’s promotion of transit to seniors has contributed to that.
A large part of age-friendliness is transportation, and good transit is crucial, she says.
“Seniors want to participate fully as citizens,” Younie told the Star in January.
“They want to do more than just go to doctor appointments, and transportation is at the heart of that. We don’t want a senior to give up their home or go into care simply because they can’t get to their medical appointments or the grocery store.”
Doctor appointments often mean travel to Trail from anywhere in the West Kootenay.
“We have made recommendations on more seamless service from Kalso to medical appointments in Trail,” Younie said.
She explained that bussing issues for seniors include length of trips, number of transfers, number bathroom stops, and the need for low-floor entrance to buses.