The City of Whitehorse is cautiously putting its foot on the pedal and rolling forward with plans to update the transit system.
Whitehorse city council voted in favour of having staff work out the details on the concept for the transit system. Staff will test out times for the potential routes and develop schedules before moving onto public engagement.
“I feel like we can’t sit on this any longer,” Mayor Laura Cabott said, after highlighting the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fuel dependency, improving air quality and other benefits that could come should more residents opt for transit.
The mayor acknowledged there remains a large population in Whitehorse that will continue to drive their own vehicles, but noted improved, more convenient service has the potential to encourage more residents to get around by bus.
Others voiced their support as well, with Coun. Ted Laking pointing out the economic benefits that would come from a system that allows workers to get to their shifts on time and Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu highlighting public interest she’s heard in providing input on the plans.
It’s anticipated public engagement on the new plan will happen in late February or early March, according to Mike Gau, the city’s director of development services.
The proposed plans and budget changes will come to council for adoption after engagement, with the hope that the first phase of the plans would come into effect July 1.
As outlined in an earlier report to council, the conceptual plans envision eight transit routes compared to seven offered now (though the Whistle Bend – Riverdale North route operates on weekends only) with a 35 per cent increase in service hours.
While 95 per cent of transit stops will remain, six that have low ridership are being considered for removal.
Downtown would remain the main transit hub for transfers, with the Canada Games Centre serving as a secondary hub to provide more options for transit users. While current service levels would mostly stay in place, some Marwell routes would be rerouted to avoid congestion. The changes also propose increased service to Whitehorse General Hospital, schools (including Porter Creek Secondary School potentially seeing service up to four times per hour) and a number of retail locations.
If the plans proceed, it’s anticipated the first phase of the system serving the north part of town, in Porter Creek and Whistle Bend, would begin running July 1, eventually increasing to seven routes. A second phase in the south part of town (Copper Ridge and Riverdale) would begin in 2024 and would add another route. The eight route system would cover the neighbourhoods of Crestview, Porter Creek, Raven’s Ridge, Kopper King, Range Point, Marwell, Downtown, Riverdale North, Riverdale South, Whistle Bend, Takhini, Ingram, Granger, Copper Ridge, Lobird, McIntyre, and Hillcrest. Some neighbourhoods would be covered through multiple routes.
Councillors Kirk Cameron and Dan Boyd expressed some concerns about moving forward without a budget for improvements.
Those costs are estimated at an additional $240,000 in the first year; $695,000 in the second year and $915,000 in the final year of implementation.
As Gau explained, the figures could change depending on the details of the plans.
“The very next step would be to develop a detailed schedule,” he said. “This may affect costs, for example, so that’s why we’re not ready with firm budget estimates.”
City manager Jeff O’Farrell said council could allocate an amount for the improvements in the 2023 operating budget, though the precise cost won’t be known until more detailed plans are made.
“With that, we’ll have more precise cost estimates,” he said. “We’re suggesting at that point the budget be amended when we have more confidence in the cost estimates. But on the other hand, if council wanted to exercise an abundance of caution and include an amount in 2023 in anticipation of what these costs could look like, council would have that choice as well.”
Boyd remarked it could be wise to have an amount set aside and noted he may bring that forward when the 2023 operating budget is considered early in the new year.
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