With summer’s visitors set to burst through the town’s seams, Tofino has doubled its seasonal shuttle capacity in an effort to decrease traffic congestion and parking frustration.
A second bus has been added to the service this summer, cutting wait times in half at stops between the downtown core and Cox Bay Visitor Centre.
“The seasonal bus service is an environmentally-friendly and hassle-free way for both residents and visitors to leave the car at home or hotel and travel at no cost to work, to the beach, or for a meal at one of Tofino’s fabulous restaurants,” said Tofino mayor Josie Osborne. “The increased frequency makes it even easier for commuters or for short trips to town and within just a couple of years we hope to see this service dovetail with new BC transit service to Ucluelet. All around, transit is a win-win for Tofino’s youth, visitors, and residents.”
Tofino first launched the seasonal shuttle program in 2007, busing tourists and residents between downtown and Cox Bay for a $2 charge during the summer. The town revamped the program in 2014, attempting to boost ridership by nixing the charge and strengthening its promotion of the alternative transportation method.
Those efforts immediately bore fruit as district staff reported 11,859 riders used the shuttle in 2014, a 160 per cent increase from the previous year’s 4,563 riders.
The program’s popularity has continued to rise since then and the district recently announced two buses will run every half-hour between 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. from June 28-Sept. 15.
“With the service becoming more popular and ridership significantly increasing, visitor and community feedback has continually been that the service needs to be more frequent, particularly during those peak hours from mid-day to late afternoon,” Tofino’s Manager of Public Spaces, Cultural and Visitor Initiatives April Froment told the Westerly News via email.
The district has budgeted $170,000 to operate the shuttle service this year with $120,000 coming from Resort Municipality Initiative funding and the rest coming from Tofino’s pay parking revenue. That’s up from 2014’s $39,416 operating cost.
“In order to operate on a 30-minute schedule during peak times, a second bus and driver is required and that comes at a cost,” Froment wrote. “With the increase in Resort Municipality Initiative funding that Tofino is receiving, along with pay parking revenue from the two small lots downtown, we are able to make these investments in the service.”
Tofino has also built three new pull-outs along the route to help keep passengers safe while also providing space for the two shuttles to let riders on and off without stopping traffic.
Froment said the pullouts cost roughly $35,000 each to build and the funding was made possible by a recent change to the RMI program that allows money to be spent on long-term planning and tourism infrastructure investments.
“The expansion of Tofino’s seasonal bus service is an excellent example of how these funds are used to best meet the needs of locals and visitors to the community,” said Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Lisa Beare through a media release.
Tourism Tofino executive director Nancy Cameron said the popular shuttle service helps tourists explore the community, while cutting down on parking congestion both in the downtown core and at local beaches.
“The increase in RMI funding, and the resulting expansion of this service, will greatly enhance the positive impact that the shuttle has on our community,” she said. “More visitors will also have opportunities to experience meaningful travel encounters as they connect with residents and other visitors from throughout the world.”
Froment noted investing in transit is strongly supported by the district’s Multi-Modal Transportation Plan, which was completed earlier this year thanks to a $120,000 grant from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Climate Innovation Program.
“Improving transit is a key strategy in reducing traffic and parking congestion, particularly during the summer months,” she wrote.