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BC Transit proposal to increase service from Nelson to Selkirk College in Castlegar rejected by RDCK board

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
August 9th, 2019

A proposal from BC Transit to expand services in the West Kootenay Transit System has been declined by the regional district.

The Regional District of Central Kootenay board of directors has opted to not accept BC Transit’s Three Year Expansion Initiatives for the West Kootenay based on the findings of an internal review of the service’s needs, finding that the provincial offering did not match the need.

Under the proposal — received by the board in June — BC Transit suggested that two additional trips be added to the 99 Kootenay Connector route between Nelson and Selkirk College and one additional evening trip be added to the 10 North Shore route between Balfour and Nelson, with an estimated annual cost of the additions at $217,345. The estimated annual net local government share would be $116,802.

In response, the board is asking BC Transit for costing and feasibility for one additional morning trip on the 99 Kootenay Connector and improvements to the efficient use of hours on the 10 North Shore, not adding the evening trip.

The estimated annual cost of the additional morning trip would be $140,459, with the cost split between local governments and BC Transit. That would mean the estimated annual net local government share of the cost would be $83,720, much less than the $116,802 of the provincial proposal.

It is expected the cost would be shared amongst Kootenay Lake West Transit Service and North Shore and Slocan Valley Transit Service.

The intent of the internal review by staff was to determine if a single additional trip would not require the purchase of a new vehicle.

BC Transit confirmed that the current fleet was at capacity and any increase in the number of trips would require an additional vehicle.

“The proposed increase would nearly exceed requisition limits for both services,” research analyst Tom Dool noted in his report to the RDCK board.

Crowded connector

The one thing both the regional district and BC Transit could agree on was the state of route between Nelson and Selkirk College in Castlegar.

As the most urgent issue identified within the West Kootenay Transit (WKT) system, the 99 Kootenay Connector between Nelson and Selkirk College during peak times (6:50-8:04 a.m., 4:07-5:56 p.m.) was deemed to be overcrowded and in need of some alleviation.

“The 99 Kootenay Connector and 98 Columbia Connector form the backbone of the WKT system linking rural routes to interchanges at Selkirk College, Nelson and Trail,” Dool wrote. “Overcrowding on this route makes smaller, rural routes and connections less viable.”

Roughly 60 per cent of the passengers on the 99 connector get off at the Selkirk College Castlegar campus.

Dool explained that, with international students, there is 100 per cent uptake on public transit. Last year, Selkirk College had approximately 700 international students.

“In regards to public transit this effectively increased our ridership like a population increase of almost 21,000 people,” said Dool.

Adding in another morning weekday trip would resolve the morning education and employment commute capacity issues, he added. But, with limited funds available, another afternoon weekday trip was not feasible, Dool said.

As well, the usage of public transit for employment-based commutes within the system was about double the normal mode share for communities of comparable size, he explained.

“This means that about twice as many people use West Kootenay Transit to get to work as compared to communities of a comparable size,” Dool wrote in the economic consideration section of his report.

Cash crunch continues

The RDCK board directed regional district staff to review the current requisition levels and the percentage-based allocation of costs and report on the implications of changing the funding model.

Funding remains the issue for the service since the current RDCK Financial Plan offers no allowance for the increases proposed by BC Transit over the next four years, a sum that

“The board’s direction in regards to West Kootenay Transit should be reflected in the Financial Plan,” Dool noted, adding that significant amendments to the Financial Plan would have to be made if the proposal was accepted.

The RDCK board could consider increasing the maximum requisition permissible by 25 per cent — over a five-year period — without the Local Government Inspector approval.

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