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Transit service will expand on lower Coast for Route 90, HandyDART in 2023

SCRD signs on to increase services with BC Transit 
n-bc transit bus by willie1989 getty images

The riders on the bus — for Route 90 at least — can look forward to 30 minute service starting next year. 

At the Sept. 22 committee of the whole meeting, Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) directors heard an update from BC Transit that detailed the service’s recovery across the province and in the area. 

Ridership recovers

Rob Ringma, senior manager of government relations, and transit planner Frank He presented a “strong recovery” across the province, about 78.5 per cent of ridership levels with a high of 86 per cent as school resumed. Meanwhile Sunshine Coast ridership saw a similar trend with a recovery to approximately 73 per cent of pre-COVID ridership levels, and some of the routes exceeding their prior ridership, and it continues to increase. A recent decline, the delegates said, could be due to the end of the tourism season. For custom transit — the HandyDART — ridership is still 50 per cent lower than pre-pandemic numbers. 

Their data shows most people use transit for local trips, and Route 90 still accounts for nearly 55 per cent of total ridership on the Coast. Route 90 was expanded by 6,370 hours and six additional buses in 2017, and the proposed increase would expand service hours by six per cent.

Route serving Langdale ferry terminal to see more runs

They asked the directors to provide its endorsement of the Transit Improvement Program (TIP) to the province, and to commit to the first year of their three-year service expansion plan. That first year seeks to improve Route 90 frequency to 30 minutes between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays for the 2023/24 year, and could begin in September 2023. Thirty minute service is currently offered between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays. This is expected to make the service more reliable and reduce wait times, while making better connections with other transit routes and the ferry — but BC Transit notes the challenge of recruiting and retaining drivers, and expanding service will require more drivers but not more buses.

Sunday service and more for HandyDART riders

Improvements are also planned for the HandyDART system to better align with the conventional system by adding Sunday service and aligning with the Saturday service, and increasing weekday service to span to 5:30 p.m. Both would begin in July 2023. In 2023/2024, BC Transit will work with the SCRD to develop a custom transit working group with local stakeholders to analyze community needs and develop options for future custom transit expansions. 

Ringma said the weekday HandyDART service currently runs to 4:30 p.m., which is considered early to comparable systems. The two HandyDART initiatives would both add 247 annual hours.

Digital fare payment options

In early 2023, BC Transit will also be rolling out an updated and modernized payment strategy that includes a mobile app, and accepting debit and credit cards (cash will still be accepted on board).

Directors press for more improvements

Roberts Creek’s alternate director Tim Howard said he was curious about the focus on Route 90 improvements being limited to weekdays and asked whether anything can be done to support an increase on weekends. Planner He said it’s a “step-by-step” process.

Elphinstone director Donna McMahon expressed her frustration with the lack of an advisory group, and called the evening and weekend service “pretty abysmal.” Ringma defended the Transit Future Action Plan format, saying that it remains a challenge to get people to provide feedback. 

McMahon also has concerns about HandyDART not connecting to the ferries or operating in evenings for social events. McMahon asked why BC Transit plans to expand that service on Sundays rather than provide more weekday service. The delegates responded that Sundays are the “first step.”

Directors also raised concerns about pushing the feasibility study for service to Earls Cove down the road, to which the transit delegates said the board could explore moving the plan up in the timeline.

The directors moved to examine the feasibility of moving the Earls Cove service to Year 2 rather than Year 3, and endorsed the presented expansions.