‘Big City’ feel to new Chilliwack transit plan: Mayor Gaetz

City council approves a new transit plan that will increase bus frequency, but reduce the number of routes.

More buses, more often, but on fewer routes will still give Chilliwack a “Big City” feeling, Mayor Sharon Gaetz enthused after council approved an expanded transit plan Tuesday.

“It feels Big City now to have 20-minute service on the main drag,” she said, instead of the former hour-long wait.

City councillors approved the expansion plan that will add a seventh bus to the system, but reduce the number of routes from 10 to four. A proposed 50-cent fare hike to $2 will also be delayed until 2013.

The new service starts July 2 and “transit ambassadors” will be on hand to familiarize riders with the new system.

Coun. Jason Lum, chairman of the city’s transportation advisory committee, called the plan “an important step in the evolution of the community.”

“It’s not perfect, but it’s moving in the right direction,” he said.

Express buses will run every 20 minutes along Vedder Road between Chilliwack and Vedder Crossing, and every 30 minutes around the downtown core. The Vedder route buses will also enter shopping mall parking lots at Luckakuck Way to reduce walking distances for riders.

The third and fourth routes will take riders to new retail developments on Eagle Landing Parkway and to the Promontory area, but only run every hour.

A new sheltered bus exchange will be located at Spadina Avenue and Yale Road, which will also accommodate future regional transit services to Agassiz-Harrison and Abbotsford.

“We’re going to continue to refine this, and expand it without tax increases,” Coun. Chuck Stam said.

Transportation manager Rod Sanderson agreed the transit changes will increase walking distances for some riders, but the city does not have the resources to immediately satisfy all the demands on the system.

However, he said this is the “first step” in a series of improvements that will continue in 2014-16 and over the next 25 years.

Seniors are encouraged to use the subsidized “taxi-saver” program and HandyDART until gaps in the bus system are closed.

Council also approved a $2.97 million annual operating agreement with BC Transit at the Tuesday meeting. The city’s share of the total will be $1.56 million in 2012/13, which will be partially offset by an anticipated $567,945 in revenue from bus fares and onboard advertising.

Lum said it’s hoped that the delay in fare increase and the reduction in wait-time for buses will increase ridership.

“I encourage everybody to get out and take advantage of this,” he said.