New council: some simple solutions could improve transit system

If someone was trudging past one in the slush, they could have a look at the schedule and the map and choose to take the bus...

Revue by Aaron Orlando

The Revelstoke transit system and the snow shuttle to Revelstoke Mountain Resort was front of my mind last week as I found myself without a car. I usually bike, but a few icy days made cycling risky and my household relied on two feet and a heartbeat to get around. (And a couple bummed rides. Thanks!)

During the election, council candidate Jason Roe suggested putting schedules on the bus stop signs around town. What a good idea. I’ve seen them in many towns. Why not here? The little plastic cylinders can’t cost much, and the schedules can be re-photocopied if the times change.

If someone was trudging past one in the slush, they could have a look at the schedule and the map and choose to take the bus. Locals know we have buses, but our wave of seasonal inhabitants (many of whom are of the bus-rider demographic) don’t. I asked a newcomer who has been here for six weeks if she knew we had buses. Nope! And she’s a professional who’s moved here with her family for good. She made a point of picking up every brochure in sight to get oriented with the community. For people who come from bigger towns, buses look like buses – long things that seat dozens of people. Here, our buses look like HandyDART shuttles, and most assume they’re ferrying people around to medical appointments, or something. I could also suggest bigger, brighter signs for the bus stops. The heritage burgundy and gold ones are very easy to miss.

I’d also suggest the transit system be promoted somehow. For example, a promotional budget was supposed to accompany the unveiling of the new transit routes … scheduled to commence about now. When I called to ask about the new four-route system, I was told it had been delayed for a full year. A full year! It would be helpful if someone communicated this to the public! It seems BC Transit doesn’t yet have the new bus needed to start the new system.

Which brings me to another suggestion for the new council. The Revelstoke Seniors Association has lobbied for a bus stop closer to their front door. Hang a Larry then a Roger instead of a Roger and a Larry. Put up a new bus stop post. Done.  Makes sense. The request was referred to staff, who are said to be working on it. In the meantime, the nearest stop is on Mackenzie, so our community pioneers can look forward to slipping and sliding down the steep embankments between there and the seniors centre. Thing is, this request has been longstanding. Months. If you take a practical, sensible request to council, it then gets sent to staff and nobody ever speaks about it again, how much longer will people keep bringing good ideas to council? I’ve heard it’s being worked on. It’d be nice to see a solution worked out before spring thaw. Good thing we have a new council chomping at the bit to solve problems like this.

The snow shuttle to RMR

I’ll admit I almost shed a tear for the end of the free shuttle. Our little experiment with free transit was wildly successful. Just under 30,000 riders in a snow season. But the free rides have come to an end. I bring it up here for three reasons. One, to underscore that transit can work here. Two, to let stakeholders like greenhouse gas fighters and the Arrow Heights Elementary PAC know the story isn’t over yet. And three, because many seem to be unaware how these free buses appeared like magic.

The ski shuttle was subsidized by the funding provided by the Resort Municipality Initiative. Basically, it’s an extra hotel tax kicked back to the community and was earmarked for things like buying the buses. The Revelstoke Accommodation Association also kicked in for operations, as did the city with some federal gas tax money. Finally, Revelstoke Mountain Resort operated the buses until last season, but then opted out. Was it city taxpayer money? Basically, no it wasn’t.

This year, a private contractor has been hired. RMR will kick in $25,000, the RAA will pay $20,000 and the city will pay $25,000 in federal gas tax money. The new fares are designed to make up the difference, including wages, fuel, some repairs and more. “Nobody is going to make any money on this,” says city economic development officer Alan Mason in a telephone interview. “This is a pilot year. We’re going to see how it works.”

Hotel guests will still ride for free, enabling bus tour operators to bring tourists to town and drop them off at a hotel for the weekend. “How are they going to get to the mountain with no buses?” notes Mason. Non-hotel guests will have to pay the new $2 fare. Mason notes this is very much a trial year. It’s effect on traffic patterns (and hitchhiking) remains to be seen.

However, those interested in keeping traffic down through school zones can push council to lobby for a diversion of more funds from the Resort Municipality Initiative to cover operational costs to keep fares down and usage up. We’ll see what happens, but it’s nice to know that if ridership plummets, some community pressure could help find outside money for the shuttle.