Last chance to comment on transit changes in Chilliwack

Transit users can view and offer feedback about proposed route changes in Chilliwack at open house Monday.

Not everyone in Chilliwack is thrilled with changes proposed in the 25-year BC Transit Future Plan — particularly those with mobility challenges.

Monday afternoon marks the start of BC Transit open houses across the Fraser Valley to allow the public a final chance to offer feedback on the sweeping transit plan.

Chilliwack resident Shelly Hlady said she’s been disabled for years and can’t walk very far, and so the proposed bus route changes in the plan do not constitute better service for her — or for others like her.

They actually provide less service to the suburbs like Fairfield Island area of Chilliwack, she wrote in her copy of the regional transit survey contained in the Rider’s Bulletin last week.

Transit officials are surveying ridership opinion on the planned changes in anticipation of the open house events this week.

Both the “directness” and “convenience” of the routes have decreased for Hlady.

“As far as I’m concerned, it is less service not more,” she told The Progress.

In order to respond to one of the most pressing demands from transit users, officials created a quicker north-south bus route on the Vedder-Yale corridor that comes every 20 minutes.

In fact, transit planners emphasized that crucial change for phase one of the Chilliwack transit overhaul.

But that’s only good if you have business on Vedder Road, said Hlady.

She said she understood from her recent conversations with city and BC Transit officials that while some of the old routes used to cater to people who couldn’t walk very far, they don’t anymore in the redesigned route system. Unfortunately she said she is only eligible for so many taxi coupons a month on disability, and handiDART hours don’t always mesh with her medical appointments.

“I hardly get out as it is,” she said. “It’s not a lot of fun not being independent.”

One sore spot is that the new bus route going by Cottonwood and Chilliwack malls will let riders off at Luckakuck Way and will not take them into the mall parking lots anymore.

“They expect people to walk to the front of the malls? It means I’d have to walk the length of the parking lot. To tell me I will have then have to walk back out and stand by the highway in the rain, is impossible.”

Mayor Sharon Gaetz said she has the deepest compassion for people with mobility issues.

“So I can understand that to have another loss this way must surely add to the frustration,” she said.

But for most, the proposed changes include more “direct” and “streamlined” routes and later hours of service, Gaetz said.

In a broad sense the goal was to get buses moving faster down the main drag, and one of the consequences was the decision to eliminate the stops inside the malls, which allowed them to shave minutes off the waiting time.

“That could be tough with anyone with disabilities or can’t walk,” she said. “It will also be tougher for seniors.”

But unfortunately the mandate of city council is to reach as many as they can with changes like transit improvements.

“For some this will mean faster service,” Gaetz said. “Our biggest priority was to get kids to university campuses both along Vedder and downtown. That was built into the plan.”

There simply isn’t enough funding to serve every need, with ridership only accounting for 30 per cent of the costs of transit, with the balance covered by BC Transit and the city.

“If we could get four new buses at once in Chilliwack, we could do it, but we can’t,” she said. “We get one bus a year.

“So at some point those routes could be re-established but right now we don’t have the wheels to make it happen.”

BC Transit Future Plan open houses are kicking off across the Fraser Valley this week.

Check out the proposed route changes in Chilliwack scheduled for summer 2012, and longer term changes for Chilliwack, Agassiz, Harrison and Hope by attending any one of the four open houses.

“This is the final opportunity to provide feedback on the 25-year Transit Future Plan,” reads the release about the open houses, found at at:

Open houses dates are:

Monday, Feb. 27      3-6 p.m.     Evergreen Hall, Chilliwack     9291 Corbould St

Tuesday, Feb. 28     4-7 p.m.     Hope Municipal Hall     325 Wallace St

Weds., Feb. 29        4-7 p.m.     Kent Municipal Hall     7170 Cheam Ave

Thursday, March 1   3-6 p.m.     Memorial Hall (Harrison)     280 Esplanade Ave