As the fifth anniversary of Nicola Valley Transportation Society bus service approaches this fall, ridership figures are higher than ever.
According to Jan Oswald, the society’s manager, buses gave over 5,000 individual rides to passengers last November and December, a first for local public transportation.
Although ridership numbers dipped slightly in January, passengers returned in force the next month. In March, the most recent month for which statistics are available, buses gave over 5,500 individual rides.
The addition of Saturday service and extended service hours in general since last July are at least partly responsible for the increase, says Oswald.
“It’s just nice to know we’re actually starting to show some improvement.”
She says that the route to Lower Nicola is especially popular, with some passengers simply taking the ride for fun.
The Nicola Valley Transportation Society has provided local bus service since November 2007. The number of passengers has grown each year.
At the end of the society’s first fiscal year in March 2008, buses had an average monthly ridership of 1,607. The average monthly ridership ballooned to 4,228 in the 2011-12 fiscal year, or an average of 169 passengers a day.
Oswald says the society plans to celebrate its fifth anniversary with passengers in November.
The society also hopes to add a third, larger bus in its fleet as demand increases and further extend service in the future.
“The trips out to Lower Nicola are getting really full,” Oswald notes. She says that the Thompson-Nicola Regional District must be part of any expansion to that area since it is outside of the City of Merritt’s boundaries, however.
“They have to actually come on board and cough up the money.”
Transportation society finds drivers not yielding to buses
Bus drivers face continual challenges on the road.
After buses pull over to pick up and drop off riders, they are often unable to re-enter the flow of traffic because other vehicles will not let them in, explains Oswald.
“After five years, you think they’d clue in.
“They have to keep a watch out for the bus because we have to keep the schedule.”
Oswald notes that the law requires drivers to yield to buses once their turn signal comes on.
Other vehicles do not respect the buses’ clear right of way and throw off the entire route’s timetable. Oswald says bus drivers, and their passengers, are frequently forced to wait for several minutes before finding an opening back into traffic.
She says that buses most often face delays at the bus stops on Voght Street outside of Merritt City Hall and across the street in front of Subway.
“Downtown is the worst.
“The traffic out there is ridiculous.”
Outside of the downtown core, the buses run into fewer problems, although cars occasionally block bus stops by parking in them, says Oswald.
Oswald says that when she discussed the right-of-way issue with BC Transit, it advised bus drivers to simply ignore inconsiderate oncoming traffic and force their way in.
That solution could invite another first for the Nicola Valley Transportation Society.
“We’ve never had a bus and car collision here,” says Oswald.