The new transit connection between the Cowichan Valley and Nanaimo that is being planned is getting a lot of support from local government officials.
But North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring is raising some concerns about the new service, which is scheduled to start on March 28 for a five-year period.
The Cowichan Valley Regional District’s committee of the whole voted overwhelmingly at its meeting on Jan. 26 to recommend the district approve a memorandum of understanding between the Regional District of Nanaimo and BC Transit to allow the Nanaimo-Cowichan Express [NCX], which will be run by the RDN, to begin operations, with only Siebring opposed.
The new bus route between Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley has been a priority in the CVRD’s transit plans for years, and the CVRD, RDN and BC Transit began a feasibility study for the service in 2012.
Stops along the route are to be in downtown Nanaimo, at South Parkway Plaza, Nanaimo Airport, Ladysmith, Cowichan Commons, Beverly Street at Canada Avenue, downtown Duncan and Village Green Mall, but Siebring took issue with the fact that there are no stops in Chemainus.
He said at the meeting that it’s insulting to expect residents of Chemainus to have to take a local transit bus to either Duncan or Ladysmith to connect with the NCX, as a staff report indicates, while there are four stops for the NCX within two kilometres in Duncan.
Siebring also took exception with the plan for the NCX not to provide local transit services within the Cowichan Valley, including picking riders up in Ladysmith and dropping them off in Duncan for example, because in the Valley, transit service is delivered by First Canada, a private operator, so it wouldn’t be feasible.
“I understand what’s going on, but the staff report says that we should wait a few years and sort this stuff out later and I think we should sort all this out now,” he said.
“For me, it comes down to, do we want no service or do we want to pay for this service which is not a service at all for a good chunk of a densified urban core in North Cowichan? We’re going to be paying for it and not have this service for those residents and, on that basis, I’m not interested in it. I think we have to go back and have some further discussions on this.”
Jim Wakeham, the CVRD’s manager of facilities and transit, said staff did look at having stops in Chemanius during the planning process for the NCX, but it’s not as simple as it seems.
He said there’s a lot of testing involved to have stops for a 40-foot bus in Chemainus, and BC Transit had raised other concerns as well.
“Unfortunately, we’re really late in the plans to implement this new route,” Wakeman said.
“To make any changes to the stops is not doable at this time. You have to remember that we have to seek approval from the municipalities [where the stops would be] before we could do that. This is meant to be an express service without stops in every area that we have. Our intent right now is to get it up and running and get the support we need from the CVRD and the Regional District of Nanaimo to move forward because we have just six weeks to go.”
Wakeham told the directors that staff understand they want the NCX to be perfect, and tweaks will likely have to made, but only after a reasonable amount of time from when the service begins.
“BC Transit suggests that we wait six to nine months after the service begins to review it and make changes, not one or two months, because that wouldn’t be enough time to figure out what is going be different,” he said.