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On-demand transportation in Coast's 'transit desert' pitched to SCRD

From the northern connection of Redrooffs and Highway 101 to Earls Cove, a ride-sharing service, taxis and a seasonal shuttle service are the only public transportation options.  With full user-pay fares, one-way ride-share trips from those areas to Gibsons costs in the range of $100.  
(via Coastal Rides/Facebook)

If you live near a Sunshine Coast transit route, you have access to areas from Langdale to Halfmoon Bay for $2. If you live in what Coastal Rides’ Ryan Staley calls the “transit desert” that extends from the northern connection of Redrooffs Road and Highway 101 to Earls Cove, his ride-sharing service along with taxis based in Sechelt and a seasonal shuttle service, are the only public transportation options. And with full user-pay fares, one-way ride-share trips from those areas to Gibsons cost in the range of $100, as the fare needs to pay for Coastal Rides’ driver, vehicle and fuel. 

An on-demand service pilot pitched

Staley believes an on-demand service using a passenger van and his service’s booking network could help bring those costs down and provide residents with more options. As a delegation at the June 9 Sunshine Coast Regional District committee of the whole meeting, he proposed partnering with local government on a pilot project to explore that option.

The committee gave Staley the go-ahead to meet with staff to explore the idea, including a potential application to the federal Rural Transit Solutions Fund. Local governments are eligible for that program, which was introduced in 2021 and Staley has been in contact with local MP Patrick Weiler about the opportunity. The MP is supportive and told Staley that the concept could qualify for a grant of up to $50,000, said Staley. 

Staley estimates that level of funding would pay for a six-month pilot project. It would use smaller scale four-to-six-passenger vehicles. That would reduce operating costs to about $50 per hour, rather than the $125 per hour needed to run the smallest transit bus.   

The concept would still encourage ride-sharing. Staley envisions it linking up potential customers heading in the same direction on a schedule that would be a compromise to meet the needs of all involved. 

“It may mean you have to leave a little earlier than you planned and there may be one or two stops en route, but by filling more seats, costs per passenger come down,” he said.   

Developing a program application would likely take in the range of 100 hours, according to Staley and he has yet to set up meetings with SCRD transit staff.

The Rural Transit Solutions Fund’s website does not indicate a date for the next funding application intake deadline. Staley admits that developing an application and having it considered will mean the start of any new service is at least six months away.

 Other opportunities

The fund is making $250 million in federal funding available between 2021 and 2026, to support the development of transit solutions that will help people living in rural communities get to work, school, appointments, and visit loved ones.

While excited about the chance to improve ground transportation in currently underserved areas of the Coast, Staley said the funding program presents opportunities for local governments to look at other transportation challenges. He thinks the fund could also support explorations of options like a passenger ferry service.

When it comes to moving people on, off and around the Coast, he told the SCRD committee members “we can do better.”