TransLink to retain Heights shuttle routes

The C1 and C2 community shuttle routes in North Burnaby will be retained as is but with reduced frequency during off-peak hours, TransLink announced Monday.

It's a compromise to the transportation authority's original proposal, which would have merged the two routes and extended it to the Kensington neighbourhood but cut out service to the main Heights shopping area on Hastings.

Once implemented, likely in the fall or winter of this year, the change would see off-peak service down to every 60 minutes instead of the current 30 minutes, said TransLink spokesperson Derek Zabel.

"A lot of people came out in support of that route, a lot of people are passionate about it," Zabel said.

The changes were among those proposed for 34 routes, all part of TransLink's service optimization program in which it tries to do more with existing resources, reallocating resources to where services are needed most.

"These two routes are low in terms of ridership but with the passion that we saw from the community … and the reduction in the off-peak as well it'll definitely be a better situation for sure."

While he couldn't quantify what the expected cost savings will be from the C1 and C2 change, he noted that in 2011 the service optimization program helped increase bus productivity by 3.1 per cent, providing 14 million new rides without added funding, and generating a 5.5 per cent increase in transit revenues.

Zabel said 3.1 per cent might not sound like much, but it's significant considering there are 1.2 million boardings per day on the TransLink transit system.

"I got back to TransLink and said we're just doing the happy dance here," said Fran McDougall, executive director of Seton Villa seniors residence, with a laugh.

Staff and residents at Seton Villa had fought to retain the existing routes, sending a large delegation to a community consultation forum and meeting with TransLink officials.

"We're very pleased, what more can I say?" McDougall said.

She offered kudos to TransLink for listening to their concerns, adding that it likely didn't realize the number of people who rely on the shuttle due to Seton Villa's location in the middle of a residential area.

"It's just reassuring there is still democracy and due process here in some areas," she said.

Isabel Kolic, executive director of the Heights Merchants Association, said, "It's a compromise that we can live with."

TransLink's decision will allow the association to continue its work in creating a sustainable community where you don't have to leave to get what you need, Kolic said.

She is still waiting to find out what exactly the peak hours will be for the every-30-minute service. "That's the only unknown right now."

Otherwise, Kolic said she was encouraged by the consultation process and how Heights and Capitol Hill residents "stepped up to the plate and made their voices heard … I think it's worked out the best that it could under the circumstances."

She's hoping that the reduced frequency will help increase ridership per ride and that eventually, as the neighbourhood's population increases, more frequent service may return in the long run.

As for Zabel's comment that residents' passion for the shuttle routes helped save them, Kolic said with a laugh, "Well, passion is something that's not in short supply in the Heights."

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