A passenger boards a bus at the Second Avenue and Steele Street stop near Whitehorse City Hall on June 9, 2022. New routes and scheduling come into effect July 1 with the city hall location set to remain as a major transfer point for passengers, along with Yukon University and the Canada Games Centre. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

A passenger boards a bus at the Second Avenue and Steele Street stop near Whitehorse City Hall on June 9, 2022. New routes and scheduling come into effect July 1 with the city hall location set to remain as a major transfer point for passengers, along with Yukon University and the Canada Games Centre. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

New transit schedule launches July 1

While some neighbourhoods see increased buses, others move to on-request system

The wheels are in motion for a new Whitehorse transit schedule coming into effect July 1.

The new schedule and routes were released June 8, showing five routes, 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.

Varied schedules

Each route has a varied start and end time with most routes operating on a 60-minute schedule during non-peak hours, and moving to a 30-minute schedule during the morning and late-afternoon rush periods.

The Whistle Bend route is an exception in that there is no service between 10:43 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. through the week. The route begins at 7:15 a.m., then moves to a half hour schedule at 8:15 a.m. When service recommences after 3:45 p.m. it is again offered on a half hour basis until its final run starts at 7:15 p.m.

Weekend service on that route is also provided on a half hour basis beginning at 8:45 a.m. with the last stop at 8:43 p.m.

The changes come out of the City of Whitehorse’s 2018 transit master plan, which showed a need for improved frequency, more direct connections and for buses to meet the times of the posted schedule.

“We needed to rethink how we offer these services,” transit manager Jason Bradshaw said in a June 9 interview.

Fewer services to some neighbourhoods

While work was done to make those improvements throughout much of the city, Bradshaw said the city had to find ways to modernize the system within existing resources and for residents of Lobird, Ravens Ridge and the Kopper King neighbourhoods, that results in less service.

Rather then being able to catch a bus in their own neighbourhoods, residents of those areas will have to request pickup service available on an hourly basis from 6:45 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. on weekdays and 8:45 a.m. to 8:15 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Riders will need to book a trip at least an hour in advance, which will pick them up and drive them to the nearest of three major transfer sites: the Canada Games Centre, Yukon University and Whitehorse City Hall where they can then access the conventional system.

Bradshaw said the three neighbourhoods see lower ridership numbers and hence were reluctantly chosen as routes that would move to the on-demand service.

“It was a hard decision,” he said, adding the city didn’t want to leave residents there without any service, thus the on-demand service will be offered during peak periods.

Acknowledging the peak-only service means no service between 11:15 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. through the week — when ridership is typically at its lowest in those areas — Bradshaw said the city will be looking at how the schedule works over the next three to six months and may make changes if needed.

The schedule for the on-demand service from the three neighbourhoods aims to get people to the nearest transfer point on schedule to catch their bus.

“The times should line up,” Bradshaw said.

He noted the overall schedule is “padded with extra time” so that transfers won’t be rushed and passengers will have more time for things like attaching their bike to the front of the bus and boarding.

In particular, Bradshaw said, extra time is allotted in the schedule for boarding at Whitehorse General Hospital to help accommodate those with mobility challenges.

Other changes

Coming up with the new schedule following the release of the transit master plan in 2018 meant hiring a consultant to look at how to best make improvements as well as conducting further consultations with the public, which largely confirmed what was found in the master plan, Bradshaw said.

Another change to the system will ensure each bus continues to operate through the day. Currently, bus drivers are assigned to their bus for the day, which means when a driver takes their scheduled breaks through the day, the bus is not in service.

Under the new system, drivers will exchange buses, allowing the vehicles to keep operating. When a driver takes a break, for example, they will get off the bus at a designated stop and another driver will take over.

“The bus keeps going,” Bradshaw said.

The new schedule and routes are among a number of changes made in recent months to the bus system, many coming out of the transit master plan.

Sunday service started in March and transit apps (Token Transit and Ride Systems) have been available in February allowing residents with smart devices to purchase transit passes and tickets online as well as track buses for more accurate arrival times.

Bradshaw said the city is also making use of technology to better track ridership. Through its apps the city is able to track how many people get on and off at each stop rather than having drivers use a clicker system to count people coming on the bus.

Landslide impact

Bradshaw said the data collected will be used to look at how many are using the system.

That data will show whether more people took the bus while the city is providing transit for free until July 1.

Fees were suspended in May as part of an effort to encourage drivers to find other means of getting around town, given the closure of Robert Service Way since April 30 due to a major landslide. Work is underway to build a sheet pile wall and berm along the escarpment with the road anticipated to reopen in the coming days.

Bradshaw said early figures are showing ridership is up about 28 per cent compared to a year earlier, though officials will be looking at the data in more detail after the free transit period ends.

Along with suspending transit fees, the closure of Robert Service Way is being felt by transit staff with the Lobird route requiring a detour and increased congestion on Two Mile Hill taking its toll on buses keeping to the schedule.

While Robert Service Way is expected to open within days, Bradshaw said the July 1 date was set for the new schedule and the reinstatement of transit fares in order to allow enough time for the road to be cleaned up and reopened.