RDOS examines impacts of ridership recovery on transportation due to pandemic, some frustrated with lack of route coverage – Penticton News

A slow and steady increase in transit ridership is returning to services in the Okanagan-Similkameen region, after a drastic decrease due to COVID-19, but costs per rider have increased significantly.

According to a BC Transit presentation given to the Okanagan-Similkameen Regional District on Thursday, provincewide ridership is 60 per cent what it was the same week in 2019.

Previously approved service extensions went into effect Jan. 3 on Route 70 (Kelowna/Penticton), Route 11 (West Bench/Penticton) and Route 30 (Summerland/Penticton).

“Our number one priority continues to be to recover ridership and we continue to focus on customer experience with investments in new technology,” said Chelsea Mossey, senior director of government relations at BC Transit.

As part of the 2022/23 budget, BC Transit is planning a significant fuel budget increase, the elimination of the shared operating reserve and fixed cost increases largely driven by cleanup costs, and other improvements.

All common operating reserves have been depleted in fiscal year 2021 and have been eliminated.

Upcoming initiatives will include an electronic fare collection system and NextRide, which uses automated vehicle tracking technology.

BC Transit’s future action plan continues to work through phases of community, local government and stakeholder feedback.

Open houses and online surveys held in November collected information from municipalities, but engagement results fell significantly from public participation in 2015.

The 2015 plan drew 2,500 attendees, while the 2021 Open Days drew only 60-70 attendees and low online turnouts.

Plans for the future include allowing more time for BC Transit and RDOS staff to work together on revising and redeploying the surveys, as well as planning other outreach activities.

But some of the administrators raised issues of a lack of service and feedback options in their area as residents still pay taxes on BC transit routes.

“The funding model we are currently following is terrible. And everything is to be reviewed. When the City of Princeton subsidizes three of our areas in the Regional District, it’s just not fair,” said Bob Coyne, Princeton Rural Manager.

“I totally disagree with the funding plan to start with, as if we weren’t getting enough money back. But that’s an argument for another day. But there’s no reason for the townspeople of Princeton to subsidize the entire bus line.

BC Transit responded by explaining that discussions are ongoing regarding the possibility of transferring this Route 50 from the City of Princeton’s Annual Operating Agreement to an Annual Operating Agreement with the Regional District, as well as the expansion of services in the area, which were outlined in the 2015 plan.

Coyne rebutted, saying it was time to pursue education and get some work done.

“I’m just a little tired of it,” he said.

Subrina Monteith, zone director for Kaleden and Apex, stepped in with a deal for her zone.

“The Apex community, they wonder when they’re going to catch a bus, when they’re going to have service. So they pay for a service, but they don’t have access to it,” she said, adding that they were also unable to participate in the survey.

Consultation for the transit plan will continue with revised engagement from the general public, particularly in Princeton and Keremeos, which was delayed due to major flooding in November.

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