Nanaimo transit ridership improves 6.4 per cent

Improved transit services has resulted in more people riding the bus in Nanaimo.

Improved transit service has resulted in more people riding the bus in Nanaimo.

B.C. Transit’s annual report, released Tuesday, indicates ridership in the Harbour City is up 6.4 per cent to 2.62 million riders annually.

Daniel Pearce, manager of transit and planning at the Regional District of Nanaimo, said that trend is expected to continue.

“We’re trying to improve accessibility and the comfort levels of the transit system, making sure there are exchanges, shelters, proper sidewalks and all the different variables that make the transit system effective,” he said. “But 6.4 is a very good ridership increase. It shows that as the system expands and improves, more people are starting to choose transit and other sustainable forms of transportation.”

Over the past year, the RDN added 1,600 hours on Routes 8 and 9, which run north and south and connect the bus exchange at Prideaux Street to city malls.

Upcoming service increases include routes linked to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital and B.C. Ferries, while bus stop improvements have occurred at the Prideaux Street and Vancouver Island University locations.

This year, the RDN also plans to install solar-powered lighting at 12 bus stops. Transit users will be able to push a button triggering a flashing light to alert bus drivers they wish to take that bus, an important feature on dark or low-visibility days.

In 2010, public demand resulted in service expansions of 5,000 hours on Routes 5 (Fairview) and 6 (Harewood).

In the last fiscal year, the RDN spent $12.36 million on transit. Funding for the system came from transit fares ($3.6 million), provincial funding ($4.75 million), property taxes ($4.12 million) and bus advertising ($50,000).

Pearce said while service increases have helped improve ridership, so, too, has educating the public on transit use.

“A lot of people say they took a bus 20 years ago and there a little bit of fear that they might get on the wrong bus or they might get lost, or won’t know what the proper fare is,” said Pearce. “Once you break down those barriers and show that the drivers are there to help people with their trip planning, it becomes an easy and enjoyable experience.”

Challenges facing transit in Nanaimo include its linear shape, which necessitates longer loops for buses, and relatively low population density, which hinders efficiency.

In Prince George, ridership improved 16.8 per cent to 1.94 million fares, while Kamloops was up 8.2 per cent to 3.5 million riders. Comox Valley improved 17 per cent.

Across the province in 58 cities where B.C. Transit operates, overall ridership increased an average of five per cent to 51.2 million trips.

“B.C. Transit continued focus on delivering efficient transit to the communities we serve resulted in operating costs that were eight to 11 per cent lower and ridership that was five to nine per cent higher than the average of similar sized systems across the country,” said Kevin Mahoney, chairman of the B.C. Transit Board of Directors.

Overall, B.C. Transit spent $249.4 million operating its fleet of 81 systems (including handyDART) and 1,028 vehicles.

B.C. Transit has the 17th largest bus fleet in North America.