Maureen Stewart is being restricted access to Kelowna’s transit service because of COVID-19 passenger load restrictions.
Three times Stewart has watched her bus pass by her Springfield-Gordon bus stop, leaving her stranded to reach previously set up appointments.
As a senior in her 80s living in the Capri area of the city, Stewart relies on transit for her primary transportation.
“It’s kind of frustrating to go out and meet a bus at a certain pickup time and watch it go by without stopping. I can’t afford to do it three or four times a week…I can call a taxi if I need to be somewhere at a certain time, but a lot of seniors don’t have that opportunity,” Stewart said.
She cited specifically the #8 route between Okanagan College and UBC Okanagan, which can be filled with students at the prime morning and afternoon rush periods.
She asks: “I wonder if any thought has been given to dedicating special buses for students? That would allow regularly scheduled service to be available or the remainder of the traveling public.
“With the onset of winter, it will be frustrating to be left at a stop (especially the ones with no shelter), and having to think of other ways to get where you want to go.”
Stewart adds Kelowna transit is “for the most part a great service,” and the bus drivers she raises this issue with are sympathetic.
Mike Kittmer, the transit service coordinator for the City of Kelowna, is also understanding of transit riders such as Stewart being stranded at a bus stop.
Kittmer said the situation is part of the fallout from COVID travel restrictions limiting only 30 people on the bus.
He said the Kelowna transit service, operated in partnership between the city and BC Transit, is looking to minimize what Stewart has experienced.
“Our schedule is set up in the spring and again in the fall, but this year we’ll be reviewing the schedule in January because of the disruption caused by COVID and how we can address them,” Kittmer said.
He said transit has instituted a pass-up service, where an extra bus is used on a given route to help meet the ridership demand.
“Our transit operators tend to use those resources for morning and afternoon peak periods, and we don’t need it as much in mid-afternoons. That has worked out well for us,” he said.
Kittmer said transit logues where peak ridership issues arise on a daily basis. “We certainly track that so we know exactly where it is occurring,” he said.
Another scheduling issue addressed was school buses only picking up high school students at KSS and Mount Boucherie secondary schools at the lunch hour due to COVID-influenced curriculum class scheduling.
Buses were added for routes to high schools not getting mid-afternoon bus service, and there has been a positive response from students accessing that service.
Kittmer said generally, ridership has increased in recent weeks as adults and students start to see some consistency in their personal transportation needs.
“The Central Okanagan has actually performed quite well (compared to) others around the country during this COVID period but I think that is also reflected by the fact COVID has not been as significant here as in other regions.”
Despite that, safety measures were put in place for drivers and the period of offering free ridership meant a loss of operating revenue which contributes to the total cost of transit.
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