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The West Bench had a bus route at some point in the past (I believe in the 1980s) but the service was discontinued due to underutilization.  Much has changed since then, including an aging population, increased costs of operating a vehicle, and new educational opportunties at Okanagan College and UBCO. So we are revisiting the issue. 

BC Transit conducted a transit study for the RDOS in 2006 (see here).  The RDOS also conducted a resident survey in 2008 to assess the willingness of residents to pay for transit (the survey is here) and an operational survey in 2010 (see here).  I draw three conclusions from these prior studies:

  • Residents of rural areas adjacent to Penticton have made it clear that they would like transit service (2010 survey, p. 37)
  • The incremental local subsidy required to run a Penticton bus up to the West Bench in the 2006 study (p.16) was estimated at $23,000 per year.  This works out to about $38 per household per year.
  • About 37% of West Bench residents in the 2008 survey reported that they are willing to pay at least $40/year to subsidize transit.

We are currently waiting on BC Transit to conduct an "operational plan" for the RDOS.  Unfortunately, we cannot move forward without their participation.  I had a chance (with Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton and Area 'E'/Naramata Director Tom Chapman) to talk with the CEO of BC Transit at the recent Union of BC Municipalities convention.  He assured us that BC Transit wants to move forward on one or more pilot projects in this area.  We will see what materializes in the coming months.

As I see it, there are at least three distinct "use cases" for new transit in this region:

  1. Routine transit into Penticton for residents of the urban fringe (e.g., the West Bench).  This involves connections with Penticton's transit service.
  2. Medical care: Penticton Regional Hospital serves a large rural area in the south Okanagan and Similkameen valleys.  As people age, they are less able to drive to the hospital.  Thus, there is a requirement for transit that serves older residents in more remote locations.  Connections with Penticton transit are less important since the hospital is typically the destination.
  3. Students: Some Penticton students are attending college or university in Kelowna.  Thus, there is a requirement for transit that collects students from Penticton and surrounding areas and shuttles them as quickly and efficiently as possible to a Kelowna hub (where they can catch the appropriate bus to their campus).

The problem that arises is that each of the use cases above entails a different set of requirements and priorities.  For example, a service that suits seniors (with more emphasis on stops than speed) is unlikely to appeal to students.  So I will be interested to see what kind of plan BC Transit comes up with.  Please submit a comment below if you have your own views on this issue.

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