Small bus, big change
It looked like the little brother of the 40 foot buses currently in Nelson, but a prototype bus that rolled through town seemed the perfect fit for the community but it’s just a part of the answer to the region’s transit troubles, say city leaders.
BC Transit brought the Vicinity model bus to Nelson this week to get feedback on whether the smaller bus would work in the region. The reaction was resoundingly positive.
John Kettle, chair of the Regional District of Central Kootenay and member of the Regional Transit Committee, summed up his feelings on the bus succinctly:
“I think their motto should be ‘It’s cute and it works.’”
The Vicinity measures 27.5′ long and has 24 seats and room for another 16 to stand, giving a 40-person capacity. The current model of bus making the rounds in Nelson, the 40′ Nova, seats 36 people with room for another 43 standing, a 79-person capacity.
Transit’s bumpy road
Councillor Kim Charlesworth agreed with Kettle’s assessment that the Vicinity is what the city has been looking for.
Transit was a major issue for council during their 2011 budget process when it came out the Novas, sent to the city in 2010 after the Vancouver Olympics, lead to Nelson Transit posting a $128,000 deficit.
The deficit was mainly due to the increased lease costs that came with the new buses. BC Transit keeps ownership of the buses and splits the lease with the City of Nelson. Between the increase lease costs and other increases, Nelson’s contribution to transit jumped to $398,069 in 2011. In 2008 it was $219,604.
Mayor John Dooley pushed for cuts to transit service in the city and some councillors suggested the city should send the Nova’s back. The decision to cut transit service was narrowly defeated.
Council’s displeasure with BC Transit didn’t go unnoticed and the Crown agency’s president and CEO, Manuel Achadinha attended a council meeting in March to talk about the problems and possible solutions.
Achadinha said BC Transit wanted to work with the city and said they’d try to bring the Vicinity to Nelson to get council’s thoughts on it.
The Vicinity is manufactured in China and the prototype that was in Nelson this week is the only one in North America.
The small bus has been toured around the province and is headed to Kelowna where it will be put into service with passengers for a few months.
Once the trials are over, BC Transit expects to put in an order for 15 Vicinity buses and possibly more.
Vicinity handles hills, impact on city budget debatable
Rodi Devuono, the city’s garage and transit superintendent, says the Vicinity was taken around Nelson’s transit routes and the bus handled the hills and didn’t bottom out on any of the steep segments of the mountain city.
Devuono noted the Vicinity was actually closer to hitting the ground in some places than the larger Novas. The Vicinity was run empty so Devuono couldn’t say whether the small bus had enough power to go up the hills with a full load.
The demonstration on Wednesday included a ride for city officials and the bus did well enough with 15 riders.
Should Nelson BC Transit go with the Vicinity and should those buses be sent to Nelson, just what the financial impact would be isn’t clear.
While cheaper, the Vicinity has a shorter lifespan so they’d have to be replaced sooner. BC Transit says the Nova is good for 13 years while the Vicinity should be good for 10 years.
Also, Nelson would still need to keep some of the larger Novas because of peak user hours, driven mainly by high school students in the morning and afternoon.
Smaller bus just part of the solution
Coun. Charlesworth says the Vicinity is part of what the Kootenays need to fix transit. An appropriate bus for the region is crucial, says the councillor, but so is improved integration on a regional level.
Charlesworth wants to see the RDCK, Kootenay Lake School District 8 and the city share things like maintenance shops and reserve buses as a way to save money.
“In addtion we would be able to offer better runs for commuters,” says Charlesworth.
If the RDCK, Nelson and BC Transit can improve bus service Charlesworth says it would pave the way for low cost housing in the surrounding rural areas. Charlesworth also says the region could add more affordable housing to the Kootenays if there was effective bus service from the rural areas, where it’s cheaper to build, into Nelson or other city centres where the jobs are.
Kettle agreed the Kootenays need a bus service that is useful for people.
“The biggest crime is having a bus that’s empty,” says Kettle.
He also says transit users have a responsibility to ensure public transit remains an option. ”People have to understand that if we don’t use the bus we’re going to loose it.”