The growing West Coast could be welcoming a public transportation system in 2021.
BC Transit is working on a potential $1 million bus service between Tofino and Ucluelet, but wants to hear what residents think, and whether they’re willing to pay for it, before moving ahead.
The provincial crown corporation has scheduled three open houses on the West Coast this week to collect feedback on the idea and hear suggestions about possible routes and schedules.
“Transit is an important part of any community being able to bring people to their medical appointments, get people to school and make sure people have a connection to get to work,” BC Transit’s senior planner Lindsay Taylor told the Westerly News. “There’s a lot of people that work in Tofino and live in Ukee, or live in Tofino and work in Ukee, and there’s no regional connection right now. There’s a lot of hitchhiking going on and things like that.”
The first open house is scheduled for April 3 from 4-7 p.m. at the Tofino Community Hall, followed by two open houses on April 4, starting at the Ucluelet First Nation Cixwatin Centre from 1-3 p.m and then the Ucluelet Community Centre from 4-7 p.m.
Anyone unable to attend an open house is encouraged to submit their feedback through an online survey available at both Tofino.ca and Ucluelet.ca until April 8 and, Taylor added, random phone surveys are being conducted as well.
The plan being presented is based on a feasibility study BC Transit conducted last year and calls for buses to run between Tofino and Ucluelet every 70 minutes during the summer and every 140 minutes during the winter.
“That doesn’t mean that the system can’t grow eventually but, with the amount of people that live in the area right now, we just want to make sure we’re providing some base level service,” Taylor said.
She explained that BC Transit would cover roughly 46 per cent of the potential service’s annual cost and the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District would pay the remaining 53 per cent.
“It’s really up to them how they want to pay for that local share,” she said adding alternative funding sources like the Federal Gas Tax or Municipal, Regional and District tax dollars could be mined for support.
She said the estimated cost of the service is around $941,000 with the local share being $404,100 and added that the cost would bump up to approximately $1.1 million and a local share of $464,700 if Hitacu is included on the route.
She suggested that, not accounting for alternative funding sources, Ucluelet and Electoral Area C residents would pay roughly $45-$135 and Tofino residents roughly $100-$190 annually to cover the cost of the service, but added that other West Coast communities might be willing to pitch in as well.
She said the cost to ride the bus is currently being set at $2, but that it would be up to the ACRD to set the fare, which would help offset the annual costs.
She said residents are also being asked if they would want to take their surfboards on the bus.
“We would need to work with the bus manufacturer to see if that’s even possible. So, those are some of the more detailed planning work that’s going to come up with this as well,” she said adding buses in Whistler are equipped to carry snowboards and skis. “That’s not totally unique to a transit system in B.C., but it’s definitely something that would need to be figured out.”
She added that the number of stops a bus would take along the route is still to be determined and added BC Transit would also need to establish an operations and maintenance facility.
“There’s definitely still some details to flush out, but it’s good that we’re doing that check-in now with people to say, ‘Before we go and do all this detailed work, what do you think?” she said. “We’re going out to consultation to see if this is something that people want and, if it is, let’s go that next step to say ‘OK, what does that funding look like and how do we divvy up the costs from everybody that wants to participate in it.’”
The BC Transit service would be subject to approval by the provincial government and, if everything goes as planned, would be in place in 2021, according to Taylor.
Tofino mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly News that a thorough investigation of public transit is “overdue” on the West Coast and that she’s looking forward to hearing what residents and businesses think about establishing a year-round service across the peninsula.
“There is strong evidence that regular, affordable transportation will improve employment opportunities and quality of life for the region’s residents—particularly youth and those who do not have or cannot afford to own their own vehicle,” she said. “Public transit can also alleviate some of the congestion and parking issues being experienced in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and in Tofino, which is only going to increase in the future unless alternative modes of transportation, like buses and bicycles, become more available and convenient.”