Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) directors agreed last week to approve a budget request to the province for expanded bus service — but they stopped short of endorsing the draft 25-year plan that was presented by transit officials.
In particular, West Howe Sound director Lee Turnbull said she had “grave concerns” with the draft plan.
“To me it looks like Area F is going backwards,” Turnbull told a BC Transit delegation at the Sept. 5 infrastructure services committee meeting. “You’re asking for more money to increase service to Sechelt, and I’m not seeing anything for Area F. Promises in 25 years just aren’t going to cut it in Area F.”
Based on public feedback collected during the past year, the draft strategy proposes a “quick win” by extending the West Sechelt bus service to 3,360 residents who do not live within 400 metres of the current routes.
First among short-term implementation priorities — spanning one to three years — is an express Route 90 service to and from the Langdale ferry terminal via North Road that would run every half hour during peak times. Under the plan, smaller buses would serve West Howe Sound, Gibsons Landing, Elphinstone and Roberts Creek as feeder routes.
The proposed changes mean passengers from Elphinstone and Lower Road in Roberts Creek would have to transfer at a Gibsons exchange near Sunnycrest Plaza to reach Langdale or Gibsons Landing, or transfer at a Wilson Creek exchange by Field Road if they were going on to Sechelt.
While the schedule would aim to minimize waits, the document acknowledges that during the time of day when Route 90 is running hourly, trips on the Roberts Creek route would not connect to the express bus at Wilson Creek.
After the highway express and feeder network, other short-term priorities include a “flex-route” service in Pender Harbour two days a week, with a separate connector service between Pender Harbour and Halfmoon Bay, and a park-and-ride location in Sechelt.
In the medium term (four to six years), the draft plan proposes:
• Increasing the frequency of the Route 90 bus to a half-hour service at all times.
• Making the Halfmoon Bay service hourly between Monday and Saturday.
• Designating West Sechelt as a frequent transit route and running hourly between Monday and Saturday and every half hour at peak times.
• Extending the current Sechelt arena route to East Porpoise Bay Road.
• Introducing scheduled service to Sandy Hook and Tuwanek two days a week.
• Establishing a park-and-ride service in Gibsons, as well as a satellite operations and maintenance facility in the Gibsons area.
Long-term priorities (seven years out or longer) include increasing West Sechelt and Lower Gibsons service to every half hour on all trips, providing two-way hourly service to Bonniebrook and Gower Point Road, and exploring transit service to Port Mellon.
To fund the first three years of the expansion, BC transit officials presented a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that pegs the cost at $1.2 million.
In his report to the committee, manager of transportation and facilities Brian Sagman estimated the total cost to the SCRD at $738,626. Of that amount, about $192,000 would be recovered in revenue, leaving $546,500 to come from taxation. BC Transit’s share of the cost would be about $563,000.
The fleet expansion over the first three years would include one heavy-duty, one light-duty and six medium-duty buses.
With Turnbull and other directors questioning details of the strategy, committee chair Frank Mauro (Pender Harbour/Egmont director) suggested a workshop was needed before the committee could adopt the draft plan.
However, BC Transit senior planner Rebecca Newlove said there was an element of urgency to the funding request, as BC Transit was submitting the first of its draft budgets to the province the following week.
“This is our opportunity to lock into a three-year plan,” Sagman said, noting that the MOU “is regarding buses and service hours, not necessarily routing.”
In the end the committee agreed to approve the MOU and hold a workshop to review the draft plan before putting it out for a final round of public engagement.
While saying she had “reservations about connections from Lower Road to the highway,” Roberts Creek director Donna Shugar said she wanted the public to see the draft plan, with all outstanding issues highlighted.
But Turnbull said she wasn’t comfortable putting the plan as it stood before her constituents “so they can get their hair on fire” over proposed service reductions.
“On Marine Drive, they’re taking their existing network of buses and putting them up on North Road. I don’t care if the people of West Sechelt have a quick win. If they take my service, that’s not agreeable,” she said.
Sagman said in his view Marine Drive was over-serviced. The strategy, he said, “would be taking some of the buses off Marine Drive and putting them on North Road where there is no service now. And it would also improve the express service.”
“So people on Marine Drive who depend on those buses are going to be out,” Turnbull said. “To me it’s about adding, not taking one away from the other.”
No date has been set for the workshop. The current SCRD transit budget is $2.85 million.