The week of January 5, the first week of life with the Bowen Queen and the first week Peter King drove commuters downtown and back to Horseshoe Bay in the afternoon, the Bowen Express bus transported 322 passengers. By the end of the first week in February that number had increased to 438 passengers. These numbers are giving King confidence that he can keep the bus running on his own even when the Queen of Capilano comes back to route 8 with increased vehicle capacity.
“People who normally drive are saving money. They’re getting downtown faster than they would if they drove, and they get to sleep-in, because they no longer have to park in the ferry line-up,” says King, adding that his best time from downtown to Horseshoe Bay on a Friday afternoon is 19 minutes. “I’ve had people tell me they’ve given up their parking spot in Horseshoe Bay, others who say they’ve stopped using Car2Go.”
Currently, the bus gets a free ride back on the 6:30 p.m. ferry to Snug Cove at the end of every weekday. King says this is worth about $100 each day to B.C. Ferries and he has been told that such a deal will not be available to him once the Queen of Capilano is back in service. The bus also gets preferential loading, so currently there is a guarantee that it won’t be overloaded.
TransLink also has an agreement with B.C. Ferries that allows the Bowen Express to work within its service area. King says he has heard there are provisions that could allow him to continue operating well past the mid-life refit period, but that he does not want to approach TransLink with a proposal until he has two months worth of data on ridership of the bus to back him up.
However, King does not simply want to continue to work within the TransLink service area, but to have his service integrated into the regional transportation network.
“My service currently works great for anyone going downtown, but for people who have to switch on to TransLink to go further, the cost goes up and it no longer makes sense,” says King. “Putting a bus on the ferry doesn’t make sense to TransLink - they’re focused on things from an urban perspective. I could accept that if I were simply proposing a concept but after this four-month refit, I will have numbers that prove that it does make sense.”
Bowen resident Andrew Pietrow has been corresponding with TransLink since June and has filed a complaint with the BC Ombudsperson about the lack of basic transportation services the agency provides to Bowen Island. He says that through his correspondence he has learned that the express bus does not fit within TransLink’s plan of having “terminus points” to their service.
“TransLink sees Horseshoe Bay as an end-point to their service,” says Pietrow. “And we are just not on their list of priorities. They have never done a survey about where Bowen people go once they get off the ferry at Horseshoe Bay. Their estimate though, is that Bowen Islanders account for 1 percent of their bus traffic.”
King says that many of the people who take his bus are people who would normally drive downtown on a daily basis.
“These people are taking the bus to Snug Cove and normally wouldn’t,” says King. “And I think it is helpful to simply get more people into the transit system that normally wouldn’t be there.”
This point was challenged at council this week, with acting mayor Alison Morse stating that there is no evidence people are actually getting out of their cars - so far, the only evidence is anecdotal.
King says that if he can get 200 passengers per day on his Express Bus – a goal he believes will become realizable as word spreads and when BC Ferries drops its discounted parking spots at Horseshoe Bay – his service can not only cover its costs but also become profitable.
For now, though, King says the service continues to be community-oriented and “very Bowen.”
“There was one morning where Artisan Eats donated cookies and juice for everyone,” he says. “Now people are joking about the Liquor Store kicking-in to provide Friday afternoon drinks and appetizers.”