The new transit master plan was presented to council at the standing committees meeting on June 18, and included suggestions like more direct routes, increased service during peak hours, additional transfer points, and visible signage and shelters. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

New routes top priority for Whitehorse transit plan

Full Sunday service still off the table, though plan proposes pilot project

More direct routes, increased service during peak hours, additional transfer points, and more visible signs and shelters are just a few of the recommendations made by the new transit master plan for the City of Whitehorse.

The plan was presented to council at the standing committees meeting on June 18.

It’s the result of months of work by Whitehorse Transit and Stantec – an Edmonton-based engineering firm. The project kicked off in October 2017. Its findings are meant to provide a seven-year blueprint that will guide the growth of Whitehorse Transit.

Cheri Malo, transit manager with the City of Whitehorse, and Sasha Pejcic, transit advisory lead with Stantec, spoke to media about the plan on June 19.

The goal is to increase ridership (which sat at 786,664 in 2017) by 28,454 within a year after implementation of the plan. The city’s goal is to increase the share of commuters who use transit from seven per cent in 2016 to 15 per cent by 2036.

If the plan is adopted by council, Pejcic said the top priority should be the route structure.

He said the system being used in Whitehorse is a legacy of what other places in Canada do, where all buses travel downtown and fan out from there. He said it’s not the best approach for a city as spread out as Whitehorse.

Pejcic called the routes “circuitous and meandering.” The upside to this is that the bus has good coverage and connects many neighbourhoods. He said the downside is that riders are on the bus much longer than they should be.

Simplifying routing and adding a transfer point at the Canada Games Centre, for example, means residents of Porter Creek who are travelling to Yukon College can do so without going downtown.

There will also be a home-to-hub service for low-density neighbourhoods including Raven’s Ridge and Lobird, where ridership is as low as two people an hour.

This sort of microtransit solution will allow residents of those areas to call transit for a ride from their door to a transit hub where riders can connect with bus service. For Raven’s Ridge, this would be the Canada Games Centre. For Lobird, this would be downtown.

There will also be increased service in Riverdale during peak periods, with a bus going through the area every 15 minutes.

This all has the added benefit of increasing frequency, Pejcic said. Under current scheduling, buses arrive every 20, 30, 40, or 60 minutes depends on the route. The recommendation is to move to a “clock-faced schedule” which would see buses arriving at 15, 30 and 60-minute intervals.

Greater frequency, he said, can go a long way toward convincing someone to give up their car and try the bus.

Relatedly, he said that, in a survey of roughly 500 Whitehorse residents, a common complaint was poor on-time performance. To that end, he’d like to see the introduction of an app that offers riders up-to-date information on bus times.

“This is what people want,” he said, particularly in the North, and particularly in the winter, when people don’t want to stand outside and freeze.

“In other communities I’ve worked in, I’ve seen the power of giving people that real-time information and it leads to almost immediate increased ridership.”

As for the question of Sunday service, Pejcic said there are no false promises.

Not only is Sunday service not currently feasible, he said, the city’s collective agreement with transit workers would have to be re-opened. At this point, the agreement doesn’t allow for Sunday service.

That said, the report does suggest a pilot project.

“Instead of fixed route Sunday service, it is recommended that Whitehorse Transit pilot a ‘first-come, first-served’ on-demand Sunday service leveraging the specialized transit fleet,” reads the report.

“The intention is for Sunday service to be funded through the specialized transit budget. Given the reduction in expenses permitted by converting specialized transit service delivery to a pure taxi scrip program, budget is freed up to be reallocated into the Sunday service pilot. The operating parameters of the Sunday service pilot should be tailored to the budget that is available.”

Council will discuss the plan in the coming weeks.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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