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WEST SHORE ON THE GO (Part 1 of 3): Commuting transit riders want improved travel times

Dedicated bus lanes through Langford, View Royal, Saanich would reduce Crawl, officials say
Transit riders and BC Transit staff agree that dedicated bus lanes along the Trans-Canada Highway would shorten commute times and encourage more people to ditch their vehicles for public transportation. Joel Tansey/News Gazette staff

Naomi Kosolofski estimates she spends anywhere from two and-a-half to three hours per day riding a BC Transit bus throughout her work week.

Kosolofski, a Sooke resident who takes the No. 61 bus into Victoria as part of her daily commute, makes good use of that time and is used to long commutes as an ex-Lower Mainland resident. But it’s still a demanding schedule she says is getting longer due to increasing traffic.

“You become very routine-orientated,” she said. “It does make your life very regimented.”

Colwood resident Athanasia Siorai doesn’t have as far to travel to get to her downtown workplace, but despite being close to the 61’s route, her commute has challenges as well.

Siorai, who lives near the intersection of Fulton and Sooke roads, has to cross the street in order to catch the 61 in the morning, a challenge in itself along a busy commuter stretch.

“Normally I take the 6:30 bus. I have been trying to take the earlier bus because (the 6:30) or the one that comes at 6:55 can be almost an hour into town,” she said, noting that her commute time seems to be getting longer.

Siorai’s employer wanted her to work different hours, but that didn’t line up with the 61’s schedule, which would have forced her to take the nearby 52 and connect with the 50, adding even more time to her trip into work.

She doesn’t own a car but said she is now considering it.

For Kosolofski, the answer to a more beneficial experience on the bus is simple: it has to get faster. “To increase ridership you have to give something back to the rider. You have to give them a reason to take the bus. (There) has to be an enticement and … an advantage for them,” she said.

Giving buses free lane makes sense: Langford councillor

Langford Coun. Lillian Szpak believes a dedicated bus lane from the West Shore would solve many of the region’s problems.

“Why would you want to take the bus and sit in the Crawl beside cars? I shake my head and wonder why those lanes aren’t there now,” she said.

Stretches of Douglas Street in Victoria have north and southbound bus priority lanes during peak times, but they’re intermittent and don’t cover long portions of the route, including the entire Trans-Canada Highway stretch from the West Shore to Uptown. Priority signals at Tillicum Road and the McKenzie Avenue/Admirals Road intersections help, but bus transit still doesn’t give its riders significant time savings.

BC Transit route planning manager James Wadsworth agreed that dedicated bus lanes are ultimately the answer towards getting more people out of their cars.

“In other communities that have implemented bus lanes, that’s where you really start to see ridership improvement,” he said.

Wadsworth noted that BC Transit has been working with the Ministry of Transportation on design concepts for bus lanes on Highway 1 and part of that is being implemented during construction of the McKenzie interchange.

“By 2018 the plan is that … there would be a northbound bus lane all the way from downtown Victoria out to the interchange,” he said.

A dedicated bus lane into town from the West Shore would be a game-changer for Kosolofski and her fellow transit riders. “If you can gain back 20 minutes in your commute, that’s big time. That’s 40 minutes of my day,” she said.

Quicker service would give West Shore commuters a better quality of life, Szpak added.

“It allows you more time with your private life and time with your family.”

Ottawa experience offers bus lane insights

Wadsworth noted that Ottawa might serve as an example when it comes to bus lanes.

Originally implemented in 1973, the network in the nation’s capital has evolved from simple paved bus lanes on city streets and highways to grade-separated routes exclusively for buses, known as the Transitway.

This has effectively led to decreased commute times and increased ridership levels.

Currently, about 70 per cent of everyone who arrives in downtown Ottawa comes via transit, an impressive number for a medium-sized city with a metro population of 1.3 million.

“That’s a number you really only see in Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, New York (in North America),” noted Ottawa’s Pat Scrimgeour, director of transit planning and customer systems.

That’s caught the attention of other markets, who look to Ottawa as an example, he said. “There’s a lot of cities that come to see what we’re doing here … Some have chosen their own ideas or chosen to emulate what we’re doing.”

Some sections of the Transitway are currently being converted to light rail in order to increase rider capacity. The Confederation Line is due to open next year.

Up next: In Part 2 of our series on West Shore transit challenges, we hear from some part-time transit riders who frequently find themselves drawn to their cars due to convenience.

Passengers wait for the arrival of the #50 bus at the Langford Exchange. The #50 is the West Shore’s most frequent connection to Victoria. Joel Tansey/News Gazette staff

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