Thursday, September 12, 2013

When Mayor John Dooley figures he’s pounded the gavel for the last time in council chambers, there’s a job waiting for him in at Nelson transit.

Dooley, along with Castlegar Mayor Lawrence Chernoff and Nelson Star reporter Sam Van Schie, worked some magic behind the big steering wheels during a BC Transit bus rodeo Thursday at the City of Nelson Public Works Yard on the waterfront.

The competition was part of BC Transit’s unveiling of the new Vicinity busses that are expected to be twisting and turning in and around Nelson streets in the next few weeks.

“The reason why we’ve brought the new (Vicinity) bus to Nelson is to test them out,” Manuel Achadinha, President and Chief Executive Officer for BC Transit, said during Thursday’s unveiling.

“Here’s a community that transit is incredibly popular but the 40-foot (Novabus) vehicle might be too big and in the past we haven’t had a bus that is the right size for this type of community.”

“We’re very comfortable with the size of the new Vicinity Bus and think it fits the community itself and believe it will be well served,” Achadinha added.

The Vicinity, which Nelson has two going into service soon, is a 27.5-foot low-floor medium duty bus designed in Canada BC Transit feels is a perfect size for the smaller rural cities.

The Vicinity, a 39-passenger bus with seats for 23 and standing room for 16 people, is part of a $4-million contract with Grande West Transportation of Aldergrove.

Although the bus was assembled in China, the majority of its parts including brakes, transmission, control systems and engine are North American or European made.

Nelson Transit is the first community in BC to receive the Vicinity bus.

The remaining units are slated for Penticton, Quesnel and Dawson Creek.

“It’s the first step, first of all getting people together to recognize that if we’re going to deliver transit to people in the West Kootenay we won’t be able to do it in isolation, we have to do it collectively,” Mayor Dooley said about the collective approach communities in West Kootenay Transit have taken to revamp transit.

“So getting these buses is a huge step forward so now we can build from here and figure out how best to streamline it . . . make it work better for the ridership.”

It’s been 10 weeks since BC Transit overhauled bus service in the West Kootenay Transit System, creating more runs for people to get from Kaslo to Trail.

West Kootenay Transit includes Nelson Transit, Trail Transit, serving Castlegar, Rossland, Trail and Fruitvale, and Arrow/Slocan Lakes Community Service.

However, change is not always good for some people. While the new routes have been praised by some, others are concerned they’ve lost service in their areas.

“I think the biggest challenge with transit we hear in every survey is and when we talk with customers its always about convenience and reliability,” Achadinha explains.

“It’s not possible to put transit on every street. But one of the things we’ve done in the last couple years in Nelson is we spent an awful lot of time talking to the public about what an integrated system would look like because what we’re really trying to run is not just a local community but a connected regional system.

“We just launched that recently and now what we’re looking for is that feedback from the customer as to how well we’re doing.”

The unveiling attracted members of Nelson City Council, West Kootenay Transit Board, Regional District of Central Kootenay and Nelson and Trail Transit.

As for the winner in the bus rodeo, Dooley and Chernoff, head of the West Kootenay Transit Board, were still squabbling over a few points in the judge’s tabulation.