The city is currently looking at the feasibility of impelenting a customized transit system outside the auspices of BC Transit. (Townsman file photo)

The city is currently looking at the feasibility of impelenting a customized transit system outside the auspices of BC Transit. (Townsman file photo)

Cranbrook to continue BC Transit services, but eyes independent options

Cranbrook City council has approved an annual operating agreement with BC Transit to provide local transit services until 2023, amid a review of the local system and consideration of moving to on-demand options.

The review, which is being conducted by a contracted analyst independent from BC Transit, was prompted by preconceptions of empty buses running routes throughout the city, identifying system inefficiencies, and justifying the escalating cost of providing fixed route services.

While the analyst made a number of conclusions in the vein of providing options to council, the review also highlighted the complexity of the transit-related issues in the city.

“Make no mistake, the local bus operator and the bus drivers for Cranbrook do an excellent job,” said Mark Fercho, the Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Cranbrook, at the conclusion of a presentation to council.

“The efficiency that they operate the bus service in Cranbrook with, it would be tough to beat. They do a great job as far as efficiently operating the system.

“What the issue is, is the interface with the system to the customer and meeting that customers needs in Cranbrook, and that’s not their job. Their job is to run the buses around as efficiently as possible, and they do that. The job of where the routes go, where the stops are, all of that is on the shoulders of BC Transit.”

A key conclusion from the analysts’s report is that on-demand transit services are applicable in Cranbrook, as a way to replace under-performing routes and provide a customized transit option.

Additionally, the review also discovered that Cranbrook does not have a transit service standard, a document that lays out the service contract between the city and its customers, as well as the decision making framework for budget and surface-level decisions.

BC Transit has conducted two reviews of the system over the last decade, but a new review is currently on hold as the organization is using Cranbrook as a case-study for a province-wide framework on providing on-demand transit services.

There is no timeline for the completion of the latest review and BC Transit is not committing to implementing on-demand service in the city, according to a staff report.

BC Transit is the provincial organization that provides transit systems to B.C. municipalities through third-party operators.

In Cranbrook, BC Transit designed the route system, but the city has limited influence in making unilateral changes, as it is managed by BC Transit and operated by a third-party contractor.

Should the city divorce BC Transit’s system and move to it’s own third-party provider, it would lose provincial subsidized funding, which covers just over half of the city’s transit costs.

For the existing operating year, total transit costs between fixed route and custom transit (handyDART) services in Cranbrook is budgeted at $2.1 million, with the city’s cost share at $894,200.

That translates into a city’s cost share of $62.40 per service hour for fixed route transit, and $31 per hour for custom transit service.

As it stands right now, the city has eight routes that operate throughout the week. Previous route analysis shows that Route 1 (which loops around Walmart and the Tamarack Mall) and Route 5 (which has stops near Mount Baker Secondary School, East Kootenay Regional Hospital and the College of the Rockies) are the highest performing routes, in terms of ridership.

The analysis also offered optimization options, such as hiring a transit coordinator to work with BC Transit and find system efficiencies, or a hybrid option where BC Transit operates certain routes, while a third-party contracted by the city offers custom on-demand options.

While the city will receive the analyst’s report, a decision will be made in the near future over using the same consultant to take a deeper dive into some of the identified issues.

The next steps potentially include participating in BC’s on-demand feasibility study and to consider public engagement over the winter months to gauge perceptions of the existing system, service gaps, community priorities and appetite for custom transit services.