The 70 NCX Nanaimo-Cowichan Express bus, which was started in March 2022 and provides transit service between Duncan and Nanaimo, provided 32,485 rides in its first year.
As well, as of February, 2023, the route has achieved its targeted benchmark of six rides per hour for the first year.
A report by Rachelle Rondeau, a transit analyst at the Cowichan Valley Regional District, said public feedback on the service that was obtained through a survey in the spring indicated that infrequent riders form the majority of ridership, with this group utilizing the service primarily for leisure, shopping and errands.
“Of the frequent riders, which are those using the service three or more times per week, the majority are from the Cowichan Valley and utilize the service mainly for work and university/college,” Rondeau said.
“Despite frequent riders forming a smaller contingent, their impact on the service is significant as they generate many trips over the course of a year, and are dependent on the service being timely and express.”
BC Transit, the Regional District of Nanaimo and the CVRD are partners in the service, with the RDN operating it.
The route operates Monday to Saturday and services eight stops, with three in the RDN and five in the CVRD.
Rondeau said the survey on the bus service indicated that the most important improvements riders would like to see include improving operating hours during the week with increased frequency and extended service hours throughout the day; improved connections to Victoria; and adding Sunday service.
She said the majority of survey respondents indicated that existing trip times work for them, but there were some different times that were recommended.
“In order to make local connections, extending service times into the later evening or on Sundays should be aligned with expanded service hours in the Cowichan Valley, which has limited evening and Sunday service,” Rondeau said.
Rondeau said the bus stops on Route 70 with the majority of activity during the first year are the Nanaimo Downtown Exchange, Duncan’s Village Green, and Ladysmith.
She said adding a bus stop in Chemainus has been of interest to some CVRD directors, but the majority of respondents on the survey didn’t prioritize adding a stop in Chemainus, and BC Transit is recommending that no changes to the current route be implemented until ridership matures.
“Some frequent rider survey respondents from Crofton expressed interest in obtaining access to the NCX,” Rondeau said.
“Future potential stop locations to service Chemainus and/or Crofton could be explored at either at the Trans-Canada Highway and River Road or Mt. Sicker Road intersections. The River Road option would be dependent on potential highway improvements at this intersection that are being planned by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, but the timeline for these improvements has yet to be determined.”
Rondeau said no significant operational issues with the route have been identified with regards to safety, timing, traffic or servicing bus stops.
“BC Transit and the operator (RDN) will be working to improve on-time performance as some buses are leaving early or very early, which is problematic when making connections,” she said.