West Coast transit pilot soaring

Leadership Vancouver Island group looks to combat West Coast travel woes.

The West Coast is getting a tatse of public transit this week.

A group of local Leadership Vancouver Island (LVI) students have chosen public transportation as their focus and created the Chuu Train Transportation Initiative.

The group fundraised over $5,000 in order to operate a pilot project that will see buses running from May 20-27, thee times a day. Stops will include Ucluelet, Hitacu, Millstream, Esowista, Ty-Histanis and Tofino and one of the goals of the project is to get an idea of how many people would use public transit if it was available on the West Coast.

Jesse Rach-Sharpe is one of the LVI students involved in the project and he told the Westerly that transportation issues are an oft-discussed topic locally so his group thought public transit would be a solid subject to focus on.

“It was always a recurring theme. People are very well aware that there’s not really adequate public transportation out here,” he said.

“We spitballed a few different ideas and all felt pretty passionately about transportation and trying to do whatever we could to get the ball rolling a little bit and see what we might be able to accomplish towards actually making it a reality out here.”

The team reached out to local First Nations, Tofino, Ucluelet and the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District to gauge how they could best support public transportation and were advised that numbers were needed.

“We sat down with them and asked them what we might be able to do to help push things a long and basically what they said was data,” he said.

“There’s not really a whole lot of data out here that is West coast specific indicating what the ridership might be like.”

The group quickly got to work distributing and collecting surveys and Rach-Sharp said they were not surprised by the results.

“It’s definitely shown us a lot of people don’t have transportation, their own vehicle to and from work, and that there’s definitely an issue getting back and forth,” he said. “A lot of people are hitchhiking from one community to another or trying to rely on ride shares, which aren’t always reliable.”

Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne was delighted to see the LVI group focus on transportation.

“I’m thrilled to see that Leadership Vancouver Island students have chosen public transit as a project to explore solutions for on the West Coast,” she said.

“It further confirms that transportation is a critical issue for local economies and for helping people get to medical appointments and other necessities of life. The high cost of transportation and the lack of coordination between different transportation modes—boats, buses, and planes, for example—is consistently raised by local businesses and residents as a problem on the West Coast.”

She added it’s not an easy problem to fix, in part, because of the West Coast’s limited population.

“Our small tax base makes it more challenging to subsidize public transit to the tune that larger metropolitan areas do, yet it’s just as important in remote communities for moving people to work, school, and for health and social purposes. Lack of accessible transit makes life harder for a lot of families and individuals on the West Coast,” she said.

“I don’t think there’s a magic bullet to solve this problem, but I’m encouraged to see the Alberni-Clayoquot Health Network tackling the issue, as well as Leadership Vancouver Island. I think solutions exist, but it’s going to take some determination to figure them out as well as to figure out whether and how local and senior levels of government can help fund them.”

Ucluelet mayor Dianne St. Jacques agreed.

“There’s no doubt about it that everybody sees it as a real challenge for our communities,” she told the Westerly. “It’s a real challenge and the cost of it has got to be affordable as well so, as a region, we need to put our heads together and see what we can do to figure this out.”

She said locals are struggling to travel between Ucluelet and Tofino for medical appointments and noted the recently launched Wheels for Wellness program is only available to people traveling over 60 kilometres so does not offer trips within the West Coast as Ucluelet is roughly 40 kilometres from Tofino.

Osborne said the transportation study is a prime example of the positive impacts the local LVI chapter has brought to the West Coast since its inception.

“Over the last three years, Leadership Vancouver Island has turned out some very interesting and innovative projects,” she said. “It often takes new sets of eyes on an old problem to see solutions that may have been right in front of us all along. I am encouraged by the dedication, passion, and optimism that LVI students are bringing to the projects they choose.”