A passenger boards a bus at the Second Avenue and Steele Street stop near Whitehorse City Hall on June 9. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

A passenger boards a bus at the Second Avenue and Steele Street stop near Whitehorse City Hall on June 9. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

Council ponders putting the brakes on transit changes

Curteanu to bring forward motion June 27

Whitehorse’s bus routes might not change on July 1, as planned.

At council’s June 20 meeting, Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu said she will bring a motion next week requesting the implementation be halted. This would give time for staff to review the plans and take public feedback on improvements.

Her proposed motion would call on city staff to prepare a report that would come to council in December on the review and potential improvements.

Her notice of motion highlights the “overwhelmingly negative” feedback the new schedule has received since it was announced. Many transit users said the new schedule is confusing and requires more complicated routes for regular commutes.

Along with concerns highlighted on social media and in emails and phone calls to the city, an online petition against the schedule has nearly 300 names attached.

The new schedule would have five major routes.

There will be three transfer hubs and scheduling that will see the earliest bus hit the road at 6:05 a.m. with the final bus ending its route at 11:36 p.m., though the exact schedule for each route is quite varied.

Among the more substantial changes is a move to on-request service for the neighbourhoods of Lobird, Ravens Ridge and Kopper King. In those neighbourhoods, transit users will have to request pickup service (available on an hourly basis from 6:45 a.m. to 11:15 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. through the week, and 8:45 a.m. to 8:15 p.m. on weekends and holidays) at least an hour in advance. It will pick them up and drive them to the nearest of the three transfer hubs where they can then access the conventional bus system.

The Whistle Bend neighbourhood will be also be without service between 10:43 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. during the week.

New schedule inconvient for some commuters

For Nesty Paron, who appeared as a delegate about the changes at council’s June 20 meeting, the proposed schedule would see him only able to arrive at work at Copper Ridge Place after his shift starts.

Currently, he catches the 7 a.m. bus in Riverdale and arrives at Copper Ridge Place at 7:45 to start work at 8 a.m.

After getting in touch with the transit department about the upcoming schedule, he learned about the routes he would need to take to get to work. He could catch a bus in Riverdale and then connect to the Copper Ridge Route, having to walk from Takhini Arena to the Canada Games Centre to make the connection. On winter days when the temperature is -40 C or colder, that’s not a convenient way to get to work, he said.

With the route from Riverdale starting at 6:45 a.m., under the current schedule the earliest he would get to work would be 8:06 a.m.

As an alternative he could take the Copper Ridge route, which would have a stop in Riverdale starting at 8:06 a.m., getting him to work at 9:15 a.m.

“I’m very anxious as of now, because it’s two weeks from now,” Paron said of the new schedule.

Council considers schedule may require tweaking

Transit manager Jason Bradshaw also addressed council on the proposed schedule, emphasizing the new routes and schedule come out of the 2018 transit master plan.

The new schedule is focused on increasing ridership on the systems busiest areas, rather than the more geographical focus the current system has.

He also pointed out that while the master plan was used to come up with changes to the system, there was also a direction to implement a new system with the city’s existing nine buses and transit resources.

For many of the busiest routes, there will be an increase in peak time service, he said, also noting out that means some trade-offs.

“For example, our current system has been found to no longer be achievable due to changes in city growth and corresponding traffic impacts,” Bradshaw said. “Any solution that replaces our current system will require a different route alignment and experience longer travel times.”

In the discussion that followed, a number of council members recognized the work staff had put into coming up with the new schedule, while also acknowledging the concerns many transit users have expressed.

Before bringing forward her notice of motion, Curteanu cited recent changes to the transit system in Edmonton that has required a number of tweaks and changes.

Coun. Ted Laking said that could provide an opportunity for Whitehorse to look at Edmonton’s experience and see what was learned.

In an interview following the meeting, Bradshaw said though transit was following the direction of the master plan in developing the new schedule, the department would be willing to adjust as needed should council move forward with that direction.

“I think it’s a prudent thing to maybe have another look at what our end goal was,” he said, also pointing out that the transit master plan was adopted five years ago.

“We want to make sure that we’re listening to the public as well, so I think we’ll take the time to tweak and maybe amend or do what we need to answer the feedback,” he said.

Along with the proposed route and schedule changes, the transit master plan has also seen the city move forward with new transit tracking and payment apps, and implement Sunday bus service.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com