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TransLink representatives float “On-Demand Bus” pilot project

Representatives from TransLink presented their idea for a new pilot project to improve bus service on Bowen Island at this week’s Transportation Advisory Committee meeting (BIMTAC).
MITTS
Driver Pam Mitts shows off one of two new buses on Bowen.

Representatives from TransLink presented their idea for a new pilot project to improve bus service on Bowen Island at this week’s Transportation Advisory Committee meeting (BIMTAC). They said the idea, which is currently “in the exploratory stages” has been formed in response to feedback gathered through the Integrated Tranportation Master Plan.

“In the top transit improvements collected by stakeholder groups, about 30% listed on-demand service as a key transit improvement they’d like to see. I think the top item, about 40% was extending evening service,” said Andrew McCurran, Director of Strategic Planning and Policy. “We also at TransLink have observed challenges with service in terms of no automated-vehicle location capabilities. There is also a practice of passengers calling drivers for pick-ups which can lead potentially to safety issues. Stop uncertainty, particularly in poor conditions - rain, snow, it’s dark a driver might not be able to see a passenger trying to flag the bus down.”

McCurran listed these, and several other operational issues that could potentially be resolved through the launch of a new pilot project.

“The idea is to take the existing buses, the existing drivers and existing service hours - so it is within the context of what we already have here - and seeing if we can deliver them in a more responsive way... it is more appropriate to call what we are proposing a deviated fixed route,” he said. “Drivers would have an app with an ipad by the dashboard, and then riders would be encouraged to download an app as well. Obviously we would need to make provisions for people who don’t have a smartphone.”

As people requested rides, McCurran  explained, the app would suggest a bus stop point maximizing route efficiency for both the driver and passenger. He added that a top priority in the creation of such deviated routes would be to ensure people who were looking to get on the ferry did not miss their connection.

“We think this concept have a lot of potential in lower density, lower demand parts of the region, other parts of the region that maybe don’t have great transit service today... Maybe through some more dynamic service and matching, could use the same hours to provide a lot better service,” said McCurran. “Given the high support that we’ve heard from stakeholder conversations here on Bowen, support from council and staff have indicated a keenness... it’s a very good test for us. So if you’re keen as a community, we look forward to working with you.”

He said TransLink would be looking to launch the pilot in early 2018, and run it for approximately one year.

Transportation Committee Chair David Hocking brought up the fact that a key request by Bowen Islanders has been a taxi service, and now that one exists, there is fear that on-demand bus service could damage the taxi service. McCurran said that TransLink sees taxis as a critical part of the “transportation ecosystem,” and re-stated his perspective that the pilot project would simply be providing the same service that exists today, in a better way.

“The proposal isn’t to go up to your door, but maybe to adjust the timing... which potentially we have the ability to book some time in advance. If you know you are going to the ferry at a certain time, you’d say ‘pick me up here,’ and we would know we were trying to get certain other rides along the way, and the app would tell you, ‘ok, the bus is coming along in 10 minutes, make your way to the corner.”Councillor Melanie Mason stated the need for bus service at Cowan Point and Queen Charlotte Heights, and a way for people to get to and from the water taxi. She asked whether this pilot project might be able to address those needs, and Paul Cheng, Senior Transportation Planner with TransLink, said there is definitely potential for that to happen.

“If I’m a customer and I start booking rides to meet the water taxi, then there’s going to be some algorithm where it will calculate - I see that there are this many people, and maybe two buses will be there at a certain point at this time, to accommodate the need.”

McCurran stated that as this new method could potentially serve the whole island in a better way.

Committee member Susanna Braund said she appreciated it when larger organizations tried to “think outside the box,” but went on to state her concerns about this pilot. She re-stated the issue of the burgeoning taxi service and asked for more in-depth assurances that this service would not harm it.

“Excuse my skepticism, that you can make an app that would work, given that you can’t even get the GPS to work on the buses right now,” she said, adding that most islanders did not see this as being necessary in the first place. “The idea that you could actually develop a sophisticated app of the kind that you describe, is a bit mindboggling to me.”

The other point that boggled her mind, she said, was that the bus heading to Tunstall and Bluewater travels such a distance that it currently requires all the time allotted just to get to the ferry.

“There is no spare capacity to go off that loop and pick anybody else up. I actually don’t know, maybe somebody does, there may be room in the Eaglecliff run, but one of the buses is completely tied up, it’s calibrated to the ferry... and the Bluewater bus needs that whole hour and ten minutes to get to the ferry. I’m just really wondering if you’ve thought this through on the ground.”

Following further discussion by committee members, members of the public had an opportunity had a chance to ask questions and state their perspective.

Jewal Maxwell said that given the fact that we have no sidewalks and streetlights here on Bowen Island, walking is not possible and bus service is essential - areas that currently lack service need to be prioritized over a pilot project meant to optimize the existing service.

Peter King, the driver and operator the express bus to downtown offered a simple solution.

“On the express bus, we use Glympse. It’s a free app, it puts a GPS on my ipad, 700 odd people are connected, and they track the bus in real time... this could be applied very easily.”Transportation Committee Chair David Hocking brought up the fact that a key request by Bowen Islanders has been a taxi service, and now that one exists, there is fear that on-demand bus service could damage the taxi service. McCurran said that TransLink sees taxis as a critical part of the “transportation ecosystem,” and re-stated his perspective that the pilot project would simply be providing the same service that exists today, in a better way.

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