District of Invermere mayor Gerry Taft says big changes may be coming to valley transit.

District of Invermere mayor Gerry Taft says big changes may be coming to valley transit.

Columbia Valley transit gets green light

The Regional District of East Kootenay Columbia Valley Directors Committee voted to renew the annual operating agreement for local transit.

Despite the recent announcement that the Golden transit service would be coming to an end following a town council decision, the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) Columbia Valley Directors Committee voted unanimously on Thursday (May 3) to sign the new annual operating agreement for Columbia Valley Transit (CVT), effectively continuing the service until March 2013.

“Technically, the operator has been operating since about the beginning of April without a contract, just on the basis of getting the contract approved,” RDEK Board of Directors Vice Chair and District of Invermere mayor Gerry Taft said.

CVT, which currently uses a bus to service the communities of Canal Flats, Fairmont Hot Springs, Windermere, Invermere, Radium and Edgewater, has been in operation for about three and a half years. At present, there is one bus that runs Monday to Friday in these communities, and a second bus that runs on Mondays and Fridays for the Health Connections service that runs from Golden to Cranbrook, also making a stop in Invermere.

Costs for the transit are split between BC Transit and RDEK, and Taft says the new contract will cost RDEK an extra $24,000 or so compared to the one previous. The increase in cost is directly tied to the cost of leasing new buses, as the two CVT buses are nearing the end of their five-year life span and are set to be replaced by 2013.

The contractor, Olympus Stage Lines Ltd., who runs CVT was also responsible for the soon-to-be discontinued Golden service, and Taft said that because of the Golden cancellation, CVT faces even more challenges in the future.

As the two Golden buses were also used as backups in case one of the CVT buses broke down, there could be direct consequences on CVT routes should a bus be out of service. Taft said should the Health Connections bus break down, then the bus that services the aforementioned communities would be forced to cancel its route in order to focus on the Health Connections service.

“The biggest challenge with CVT is that we want it to do everything, for everyone, with one bus for the whole valley,” Taft said. “If you do one thing properly, then a whole bunch of other things won’t work for other people, especially with just one bus.”

To this end, Taft said the board may consider changing the Monday to Friday bus to a Tuesday to Thursday route to avoid exactly such a situation. With ridership down by over 6 per cent, according to the BC Transit 2010-2011 annual performance summary, Taft said it’s hard to justify getting a second bus just to fill those specific days.

“[Although] in some ways, getting a second bus would provide for a better schedule and service that might increase ridership,” Taft said. “It’s kind of the chicken and the egg.”

For the future, Taft said they will continue to consult with transit users and stakeholders on ways to improve the bus service. For his part, Taft feels the cost to replace the buses is quite high and wants to push BC Transit for a different bus model for the urban route as opposed to the highway route to cut costs. Taft would also like to see improved marketing for the bus service, including the on-call service, which he feels is under-utilized.

For more information about the CVT, visit www.transitbc.com.