According to BC Transit, ridership on the new Hwy. 16 bus service, which connects Burns Lake to Smithers and Prince George, has been exceeding expectations.
In fact, buses were at capacity on two different occasions and were therefore unable to pick up any more passengers.
The first time this occurred was on Tuesday Aug. 15, when three passengers were not able to board the bus in Vanderhoof, and the second time was on Saturday Aug. 19, when passengers in the Fraser Lake area were also unable to board the bus.
“That’s something that we can perhaps deal with by having an additional bus following buses that are at capacity,” Chris Fudge, senior regional transit manager with B.C. Transit, told the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako board earlier this month. “This is all part of the learning process that we are going trough in the early stages.”
In July, route 161 – from Burns Lake to Prince George – had 261 passengers. In August, ridership increased on that route to 316 passengers.
“From our perspective, these numbers are better than we expected for a brand new service,” said Fudge.
Route 162 – from Burns Lake to Smithers – had 153 passengers in July, decreasing to 123 passengers in August.
Fudge said B.C. Transit has been analyzing why more people are using the service between Burns Lake and Prince George.
Although the service has only been operating for about three months, Fudge said public awareness has been positive.
“That is something that we watch for in early days, making sure that people are aware that the service exists, and that the information that we put out there is actually reaching people,” he said.
BC Transit has been gathering data and public feedback through their website, bus drivers and BC Transit staff that have been on the buses collecting information such as reasons for travelling, as well as where and when most people are boarding the buses.
“This information is very valuable to us,” said Fudge. “We will continue to gather information to see how the service is going to evolve.”
Fudge also mentioned a situation in which passengers were missed by a driver. He said BC Transit attributes this incident to the service being new.
“It’s a new service with new drivers and customers still getting used to it,” said Fudge. “It’s something that we learned about right away and that we do our best to rectify and make sure it’s not something that will happen again.”
Fudge added that road construction has caused occasional delays.
“This is something that we try to mitigate, but a lot of the times it’s out of our control.”
Bathroom breaks and possible “snow route”
According to BC Transit, slight modifications to the schedule of the new bus service will be needed to allow more time for bathroom breaks.
“That’s something that we’re looking at implementing as early as November,” said Chris Fudge, senior regional transit manager with BC Transit.
“The reason that we’re looking at early November is because we want to find that balance between getting customers used to the new service and not changing things too frequently, but then also adapting as necessary,” he explained.
BC Transit is also assessing how winter road conditions might impact the bus service in places such as Burns Lake, where the topography includes hills. Fudge said BC Transit is currently coming up with a plan, and that an alternative “snow route” may be considered in some areas.
The new Hwy. 16 bus service is part of a $6.4-million project intended to alleviate hitchhiking along the highway corridor.