City is still missing the bus

For years, the city’s transit system has been studied and researched. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on the effort.

For years, the city’s transit system has been studied and researched.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on the effort.

But, despite all that, it has not improved, and long wait times and inconsistent service are driving bus users away, said former Whitehorse city councillor and Yukon MLA Sue Edelman.

“What people see right now is the buses driving around the city empty — and they’re empty because they’re not usable,” she said.

And the city has been ignoring recommendations to improve the service for years.

“There are people who spent countless volunteer hours, did lots of research, went to countless meetings — they learned the system here and talked to people about what they wanted to see,” said Edelman.

“The city council has got to understand that they’re not trusted right now.”

A few years ago, Edelman joined a transit improvement committee.

“We called it TIC, because we were going to tick people off,” she said with a laugh.

The committee met regularly to discuss transit issues and came up with three main recommendations.

One, redesign the system away from hub and spoke to a multi-transfer.

“Hub and spoke, where all bus routes hinge on one main transfer point, does not work,” said Edelman.

“It’s an extremely outdated model which worked well in London, England, in the 1800s, but we’ve moved past that.

“What you do now, in many places in Canada, is that you go out and catch the bus from one of many transfer points, and you’re not tied to these schedules that are based on how long it takes you to get from the hub to your destination.”

And that system means long wait times for users, said Edelman.

“In Whitehorse right now, you can spend 75 minutes waiting for a bus.”

Second, the committee recommended regulating the system so buses come on the hour or half hour.

That would also cut wait times and confusion by making the system consistent, said Edelman.

And third, the committee recommended starting a commuter loop that would regularly ride from the front door of the Canada Games Centre to the Yukon Arts Centre and Yukon College, and down to the Yukon government building.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of people who go to those places on a regular basis.”

There were other suggestions, like starting up evening and Sunday service, said Edelman.

“Those suggestions we knew were a long shot.”

After the committee presented its recommendations to council, the city struck another committee to examine transit issues called the Transit Task Force with members from the public and community groups.

It came up with a list of seven recommendations, many mirroring the TIC’s.

The task force asked the city to develop alternatives to the hub-and-spoke system; it asked for the same commuter loop and enhanced service on evenings and weekends.

The city doesn’t have enough buses to implement those recommendations, although they are still on the radar, said city manager Dennis Shewfelt.

“None of those recommendations have been eliminated from consideration, but each of those require additional rolling stock; we’re not really in a position to be able to implement them until we have increased capacity within the buses.”

As well, the city doesn’t have the funding to put more buses on the road because with each new vehicle comes added operating expense.

As for Sunday service, the city’s 2006 biannual citizens’ survey, completed in May, showed that 73 per cent of respondents would not use a Sunday service if the city offered one.

But the survey also indicated that 58 per cent of respondents did not use the transit system at all in the past year — that’s up from 46 per cent in 1998.

Brian Eaton calls the city’s bus system “a lost cause.”

He doesn’t drive a car. He cycles and walks in the summer, but uses the city’s bus system in the winter out of necessity.

And its problems have had a large influence on his decision to live downtown.

“I don’t have any faith in this present administration’s capacity or willingness to turn the situation around,” said Eaton.

“The Transit Task Force made some recommendations and they may as well have just pissed against the wind, maybe when the city is done blowing its money of super projects they’ll get around to improving the transit system.”

Now, with a municipal election slated for October, both Edelman and Eaton want the city to reexamine the transit system.

“Go back and revisit those three issues and make a decent attempt at resolving them, and be responsible to the recommendations that came out of the transit task force,” said Edelman.

“I think that if you spoke to people about the transit service today, they’d say: ‘I don’t know anything about it’ or ‘Oh, I tried to use it and it didn’t work for me’ or they’re using it because they have to and it doesn’t meet all their needs.

“These things get missed because transit is thought to be used by the disenfranchised,” said Edelman.

Currently, the Whitehorse fleet consists of nine regular buses and one newly purchased handy bus, which picks up people who cannot get on and off a regular bus.

The city is slated to receive three new buses in December. These are paid for with money from the Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund.

Under the cost-sharing fund’s agreement the city, the territory and Ottawa have contributed equal amounts of money.

But these three new vehicles will be used to replace the city’s aging fleet, said Shewfelt.

Both Whitehorse mayor Ernie Bourassa and transit manager Dave Muir were out of town and unavailable for comment.