Put the wallet away and forget about buying bus tickets or transit passes for the time being.
At a special meeting of Whitehorse city council May 17, members quickly passed third reading of a bylaw suspending transit fees until July 1. The vote followed the first two readings of the bylaw at a special meeting the evening before.
Council normally goes through a much longer process of at least three weeks for any bylaw to move through the three required readings for approval. In this case there was a greater sense of urgency as increased traffic congestion continues to plague the city following the closure of Robert Service Way since April 30.
“As a result of the closure of Robert Service Way, traffic has been redirected to enter and exit the downtown using Two Mile Hill, which has created traffic impacts,” transit manager Jason Bradshaw explained in a report to council ahead of the vote. “Commuters are being encouraged to adjust their travel routes and times of travel, carpool, use active transportation, work from home where possible, and use Whitehorse Transit. In an effort to help mitigate resulting congestion and delays, administration is proposing to temporarily suspend transit fees until July 1, 2022 to encourage use of transit.”
It’s anticipated the city will lose between $50,000 and $60,000 in fares with the difference to be made up from city reserves.
Those who have already purchased transit passes for May will be able to use them in July when fares are charged again, Bradshaw said.
The April 30 road closure came due to the slide which sent an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 cubic metres of debris down the escarpment, across the road and onto Yukon River ice. The site remains active and is considered a danger due to continued movement, seepage and tension cracks with the city planning to install a sheet rock wall as a temporary measure to help stabilize the escarpment and reopen the road.
The situation has left Two Mile Hill and Mountain View Drive as the only roads in and out of downtown for most neighbourhoods with the exception of Riverdale, which is accessed via the Robert Campbell Bridge.
Only after the sheet pile wall is in place and debris is cleared will Robert Service Way reopen. That work is expected to be finished sometime in June.
One transit route has been impacted by the road closure with the Takhini/Lobird/Copper Ridge express route (Route 5) now travelling Two Mile Hill, Fourth Avenue and Second Avenue rather than along Robert Service Way as it previously had.
Coun. Kirk Cameron proposed the idea to the rest of council recently.
In a May 17 interview, Cameron said he had read about other municipalities around the world that have taken measures to increase mass transit use. Among them is the elimination of fares, which he thought could benefit Whitehorse in the short term as it deals with significant traffic congestion. It presents an opportunity to see how many people might choose transit if fares aren’t charged.
Cameron emphasized it was a decision by all of council to move forward with it so quickly.
“Everybody just thought, ‘Okay, here’s our opportunity to do something really good for our city’,” he said.
Council members also highlighted the work of administration to bring the bylaw changes forward quickly.
“Administration ran with it in very short order,” Mayor Laura Cabott said.
The city moved as quickly as possible through special meetings to ensure bus fares would not be charged while Robert Service Way remains closed.
As Cabott said during council discussion during the May 16 meeting, the city is fairly limited on what it can do immediately to address traffic congestion, but council members agreed this may help the situation.
In voicing their support, members highlighted the opportunity to see whether ridership increases and asked ridership data be tracked over the little more than six-week period.
“There could be longer term opportunities,” Coun. Ted Laking said.
Cameron encouraged residents to look at the bus schedule, see how it fits into their day and to think about the advantages of using the transit system, in particular possibilities to cut down on commute time and gas costs with prices now hovering at $2-plus per litre at many stations around town.
“To my way of thinking, it doesn’t get better than this,” Cameron said.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org