Bus service now offered on stat holidays as Merritt transit expansion continues

By on February 2, 2018
File photo

Merritt residents can now ride the bus during statutory holidays on a permanent basis.

At its regular meeting on Jan. 23, city council approved offering the service on all dates except Christmas with the same schedule as regular weekday operating hours.

The Nicola Valley Transit Society (NVTS) has provided the service at its own cost on a trial basis since July and requested the city make it official, offering two options for implementation, a staff report to council stated.

Staff recommended the cheaper option with shorter hours and no trips to Lower Nicola, but after an amendment from Coun. Dave Baker, the city will implement the more expensive option, meaning buses will run between 6:15 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. with four stops in Lower Nicola.

“I think there’s a lot of people in Merritt who do not have access to their vehicles and I’d like to go with the higher number because I think it’d be a good thing to do,” Baker told his fellow councillors.

The motion adds 239 hours of service to the system annually and will cost the city an estimated $7,000. Municipal staff will now work with BC Transit to ensure the service is part of the 2018-19 operating agreement with NVTS.

BC Transit in Merritt will now be offering service on all these statutory holidays with the exception of Christmas Day. (Photo from BC Transit)

Baker’s amendment was supported by council and approved by votes of 5-1 with only Coun. Linda Brown opposed. Coun. Mike Goetz was absent from the meeting.

Brown told her fellow councillors she preferred council stick to the smaller number as the 2018 budget hasn’t been finalized yet.

The cheaper option would have cost about $3,000 and had the buses running from 8:15 a.m. to 6:11 p.m., which is the hours they operate on Sundays.

The staff report to city council recommended this option because service levels could always be increased if there was a demand.

With the change now official buses will be in service next weekend on Family Day, NVTS manager Frank Trenholm said.

Merritt transit expansion ongoing

Changes have been ongoing to Merritt’s transit system since the end of 2016 when council approved BC Transit’s service review and a fare hike.

Last April an additional bus stop was added at NVIT and the service began offering earlier departures to Lower Nicola for more on-time arrivals.

NVTS expanded its services as of Jan. 2 this year to include a third bus, more trips out to Lower Nicola and the Bench area, and a new on-request service offering curb-to-curb pickup for all riders on a first-come, first-serve basis. Priority is given to those with mobility issues.

The transit system has also extended its operating hours later into the evening on weekdays — operating from 6:15 a.m. until 11 p.m. instead of 9:30 p.m. — and provides service on Sundays.

Sunday service is available from 8:15 a.m. 6:00 p.m., but does not make trips to Lower Nicola.

The expansion of transit services has helped create more jobs as NVTS has added three more part time positions, NVTS manager Frank Trenholm told the Herald.

The expansion will also help business owners in the Bench area, he said, noting that he conducted a survey of shops in the area.

“There’s a lot of people from downtown, Diamond Vale and Collettville [who] work up there, so there’s more of a guarantee that their workers are going to get there, there’s more people going up shopping, so generally it’s a plus all around,” Trenholm said.

BC Transit’s service review listed these upgrades as short-term items to be put in place in 2018, with expansion of services to the Coldwater reserve listed as one of the next steps after that.

Bus service currently doesn’t go past Menzies Street and extending service out to the Coldwater would enable NVTS to serve a lot more people, Trenholm told the Herald.

“Another area would be Upper Nicola,” Trenholm said. “I don’t know how far out we could go right now, but if we could get to Nicola [Lake] it would be good too. There’s a lot of people hitchhiking back and forth.”

Last June Merritt city council opted against expanding transit service to the Coldwater reserve given uncertainty surrounding the Coldwater Band’s commitment level and the fact the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) could not participate in the expansion to the reserve until 2019.

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