Significant improvements to Fort St. John public transit could begin as early as September this year.
BC Transit presented recommendations to Fort St. John City Council Monday to improve service for passengers taking about 130,000 rides a year in the city. BC Transit staff recommended implementing service to the North Peace Regional Airport and reinstating a route to Northern Lights College.
“The ridership in FSJ is quite low in perspective of the other peer communities within BC transit. In some ways that’s to be expected – just with the demographics of this area – but the ridership contingency that does use the system speak very highly of it and we’re part of their day to day lifestyle,” said Todd Dupuis, senior transit planner for BC Transit.
Other proposed improvements address scheduling issues, reliability, frequency, route access and route directness. Changes are intended to be cost-neutral, meaning the elimination of routes in areas of low use.
Many improvements could take place this year or in 2014. One such proposal would add a bus stop at the entrance to Northern Lights College and a U-Pass program to encourage ridership. Service was routed away from there in 2012, giving student users – mostly international students, disabled students, single parents and student residents – a 500-metre walk between the school and the nearest stop.
Transit schedules across the city would be adjusted to match school and work start and end times at the College and Energetic Learning Campus, as well as the hospital, where bus stop facilities would be upgraded.
New bus shelters will be installed at Northbound 86th Street between 85th Avenue and 89th Avenue due to high density, and at the popular shopping centre of Northbound 100th Street between 100th Avenue and 102nd Street.
BC Transit has also recommended the City remove snow on sidewalks, particularly those along transit routes, be removed “in a more timely fashion.”
Medium-term changes, to be implemented over up to five years, include the proposed service to the Airport from central Fort St. John, near 100th Ave and 100th St. Dupuis said this may not be via public transit, but rather a private contractor.
This period would also bring more bus shelters for priority areas like the Pomeroy Sport Centre, Hospital and Wal-Mart. Service enhancements would continue, introducing Sunday and Holiday service, extended weekday and Saturday service, and improve service on high-frequency routes. A proposed new route for the medium-term would connect the fast-developing Fort St. John North side with the already dense Southeast.
In the long-term, meaning within ten years’ time, service could be extended to Charlie Lake, the proposed location of the Site C dam, and Taylor.
BC Transit also wants to decrease use of four existing custom transit vehicles, like the handyDart that carries senior and disabled passengers. The report says the system is overused, and where possible, passengers should be encouraged to use the proposed improved public transit services. It recommends expanding custom transit services over the next 10 years, but suggests supplementing the service with private vehicles in the meantime, namely taxis, when the handyDART is unavailable.
BC Transit also recommends community support to increase ridership from the present 1 per cent of the share it holds in the way Fort St. John residents travel. Such initiatives could consist of employee transit incentives for employers, different fare options, and a “Transit Day” where elected officials ride the bus.
BC Transit will hold open houses for public consultation and invite online feedback from the community in March through April, then select the changes to be implemented immediately in late spring. The report proposes implementations could begin in September 2013.