Seniors at Granite Manor will soon have a special bus service to take them from their Morgan Street apartment building to a few key locations around town.
The 47-unit building was cut off from regular bus service when the integrated West Kootenay transit system took effect in July. Numerous changes were introduced across the entire transit system, including re-routing the Fairview bus from Morgan Street to Lakeside Drive.
When Granite Manor residents discovered the bus was no longer running in front of their building, they petitioned Nelson City Council to restore service to their block. BC Transit sent a representative in from Victoria to meet with the residents and find a solution.
Daniel Pizarro, BC Transit senior regional transit manager, said after the meeting that arrangements were made to have one of the small Handy Dart buses offer trips to and from Granite Manor three times per week.
Beginning next week, the Handy Dart will pickup passengers outside the building on Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday and deliver them to three locations: the Chako Mika Mall, the Nelson Medical Clinic and the downtown transit exchange at Ward and Baker streets. Three hours later, the route will run in reverse, to bring the riders home. Users will pay the regular $2 fair to ride the bus.
BC Transit will monitor usage of this new service to determine how many people in the building are actually transit users. Previous ridership counts conducted as part of the last transit review showed only one to four people per week boarded the bus on Morgan Street.
The counts were conducted for one week periods at two different times of year.
“We tend to do our rider counts during peak months, like November and March, when we expect to see the most riders,” Pizarro explained. “We saw very, very few people boarding at that location.”
During the public consultation on the route change, Pizarro said nobody expressed concern about the bus no longer running down Morgan Street. The change had been in place for months before Granite Manor residents started speaking out about it.
Nelson city councillor Donna Macdonald, who sits on the West Kootenay Transit Committee, said residents of Granite Manor will have to prove they want to use the bus before any changes to the regular bus route will be considered.
“It’s a use it or lose it situation,” she said. “If they’re only using the bus occasionally, then maybe the Handy Dart service is the best option. It’s door-to-door service, which is certainly convenient.”
Anyone with mobility challenges can register to use the Handy Dart. Users book trips in advance and are picked up at home and dropped off at their destination.
Granite Manor residents who want to use the bus outside the scheduled times could book their own Handy Dart trips, Macdonald pointed out.
But Diana Cole, one of the seniors who lives in the building, said she and her neighbours will continue to fight to have a regular route on Morgan Street.
She said the Handy Dart route is, “an improvement over having nothing, or having to depend on other people or using the cab. But it’s only a stop gap measure, not the final solution.”
The soonest a change to the bus route could be introduced is summer of 2014, when the new rider’s guide comes out. Cole is hoping if the Fairview route can’t be completely restored to how it was previously, that perhaps it could could still come down Morgan Street a few times per day on a special route.
“It’s actually faster to drive along Morgan then it is to go down by the mall [along Lakeside Drive],” she points out.
BC Transit will review all its new routes next year and see what tweaks need to be made. Pizarro said besides the concerns expressed by Granite Manor residents, there have been very few complaints about the changes to the transit system.
“Considering the amount of change that happened all at once, there’s been very little negative feedback.”
Regional routes attracting more riders
Since the introduction of the integrated West Kootenay transit system, more out of town commuters have been taking the bus to Nelson.
According to BC Transit’s September 2013 ridership counts, there was an 11 per cent increase in the number of people using transit within the Kootenay Zone compared to the same one-month period last year. The majority of gains were from riders of connector routes between Nelson and the Slocan Valley and between Nelson at Balfour.
Kevin Schubert, BC Transit’s director of regional transit systems, said efforts on the part of the West Kootenay Transit Committee to make inter-city trips more attractive to users are paying off.
“When [riders] get to town, now it’s an easy transfer onto another bus as opposed to onto another system,” Schubert said.
Before the integrated system took effect this past July, there were several different transit systems operating independently in the West Kootenay with little concern for how they connected. Transit users would have to pay additional bus fair each time they changed systems. It was often easier to hitch hike between communities than navigate the inter-city bus routes.
Schubert said while September numbers are very promising, he’s looking forward to seeing October’s ridership numbers to see if the early trend continues.
Elsewhere in the regional transit system, including in the Columbia Zone that services Trail and Castlegar, September ridership numbers were pretty much on par with what was seen last year.