Community shuttle plans spark frustration

Isabel Kolic, of the Burnaby Heights Merchants Association, and Jack Kuyer of Valley Bakery and KJ Eom of Regent Fish, are concerned proposed changes to the community shuttle bus that serves the area will make it more difficult for residents to get to local shops on Hastings Street. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Isabel Kolic, of the Burnaby Heights Merchants Association, and Jack Kuyer of Valley Bakery and KJ Eom of Regent Fish, are concerned proposed changes to the community shuttle bus that serves the area will make it more difficult for residents to get to local shops on Hastings Street.

A TransLink proposal to change the community shuttle routes in North Burnaby will impact Heights merchants, seniors and people with disabilities, and encourage more people to drive, says area residents.

The proposal would see the C1 and C2 routes merged and extended to the Kensington shopping and recreation area. However, it would no longer travel on Hastings Street between Willingdon and Gilmore avenues, coverage in Capitol Hill would be reduced and the shuttle's frequency would drop from once every 30 minutes to every hour.

It's part of TransLink's service optimization program, where it's trying to do more with existing resources, reallocating them from low-ridership areas to those with higher demand, according to a press release on the TransLink website.

A map of the proposed changes says currently, the C1 and C2 routes "are among the lowest performing routes in the transit system, generating average loads of 2-3 passengers per trip."

Isabel Kolic, executive director of the Heights Merchants Association, suspects those numbers are an average of the entire day's ridership between (6 a.m. and 10 p.m.) since the shuttles are often packed during rush hour periods.

The proposed route would likely help businesses around Kensington but at the expense of the Heights commercial district and people who use it, Kolic said, adding she only learned of the plan by word of mouth.

"So we're making it harder for our local Heights people to use our neighbourhood on foot, but making it easier for them to access other parts of the city rather than shop close to home."

Seniors or people with mobility issues will be particularly affected by the proposed route but anyone who might be carrying a heavy load of groceries or dealing with nasty weather will also be impacted.

"If their doctor is actually on Macdonald Avenue then they're going to have to walk [from Willingdon] or take a taxi or two shuttle connections in order to travel the equivalent of nine blocks," she said.

"If TransLink is trying to encourage public transit use, then they do need to look at the value of transit to the people who use it and not just absolute numbers, adding up a total at the end of the day and then dividing it up by the number of trips."

Kolic is encouraging people to attend a TransLink information session on the proposal, Wednesday, Dec. 12 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. at Gilmore Community School gym, 50 South Gilmore Ave., which she noted is not even on the shuttle route.

The staff and residents at Seton Villa plan to pack the seniors residence's bus to attend the meeting and make their voices heard, said its executive director Fran McDougall.

The community shuttle stops just outside Seton Villa's door and is used by a quarter of its staff and many of its 230 residents, McDougall said, and the news about the proposed changes is all the talk at the residence.

Staff worry the reduced frequency could make them an hour late for work if they miss their connection, residents wonder how they'll get to doctors appointments, pharmacies or their favourite shops in the Heights, she said. The low-income seniors can't afford to take cabs instead and the Handi-Dart is only for very specific types of trips, not for shopping or visits to friends and family in nearby hospitals.

"Yes, it may not be making [TransLink] money but it's a long hike uphill for anyone to walk, especially in the winter. That's a long hike up from Hastings."

McDougall said the service is well used at Seton Villa.

"When I come to work there's always someone at the bus stop in the morning, I see staff getting off and I see residents getting on ... The impact may not be in numbers but it's certainly significant on people's lives."

For Margie Manifold and other parents of students at Alpha secondary, the concern is about the reduction in frequency.

Manifold, chair of the Heights Neighbourhood Association, said if the proposal goes ahead missing a shuttle will mean her daughters will either have to wait an hour for the next one or walk home to the northwest corner of Burnaby in the dark and rain while carrying heavy band instruments, a trek of about an hour.

Capitol Hill resident Peter Cech said the reduction in frequency will mean he likely wouldn't bother using the shuttle at all "because I'm not going to build my schedule around something that arrives every hour."

The concerns he's heard from his neighbours is that any unexpected delays would only be magnified on an hourly schedule, and elderly residents in North Burnaby would be greatly impacted.

For people who live up the steep hills in the area, he predicts they won't want to depend on the shuttle and will stop using it altogether, ironic since TransLink's justification for the change is not enough people are using it now.

Cech also said the shuttle is full after work and if people need to buy heavier groceries, they'll end up taking their cars to go shopping instead of waiting an hour for the bus or trekking with the load up the hill on foot.

"If the whole ethos is to get people out of their cars, this is a step backward."

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