Maureen Pilcher is one of many Coombs residents, who wants the Regional District of Nanaimo to establish a transit service in her area.
But it’s not going to happen soon.
The recent RDN staff’s recommendations for transit expansion priorities for 2020 do not include provision of public bus services in Electoral Area F (Coombs, Hilliers, Errington, Whiskey Creek, and Meadowood).
For the residents in the area who don’t own a car, commuting to work, to school or to visit the doctor in Parksville or Qualicum Beach is a problem.
It is a bigger problem for Pilcher because she has physical challenges. She appeared as a delegation at the RDN’s Transit Select Committee on July 11 to enlighten the RDN directors and transit staff of the dilemma that she and people like her are experiencing.
“Although I am differently abled, I still wish to maintain as much of my independence as I can,” Pilcher said. “At present I am unable to leave my house, which results in a great deal of frustration.”
Pilcher is currently secretary of the Access Oceanside Association, a group dedicated to raising awareness and providing education while working toward a community of inclusion for all, barrier-free.
“I am concerned by the lack of transit service to Electoral Area F,” said Pilcher. “The 2016 census reported that those who live in Area F have the highest proportion of low-income residents, and 18.5 per cent of the residents reported health and activity limitations. Many of the long-term citizens are getting older and require more medical care. Many live here because housing is more affordable for those living on a tight fixed income, giving them a safe rural community in close proximity to services, friends, and most importantly, their family.”
The public services in the Town of Qualicum Beach and the City of Parkville, Pilcher pointed out, are so close and yet Area F residents cannot benefit from these service centers.
“Available public transportation would provide opportunities for all — commuting for work, shopping, banking and getting to and from medical appointments in town,” she said.
Pilcher requested the RDN to review its policy to allow at least a handyDart services outside of the conventional transit service area.
“My research has determined that the utilization of handyDART service outside of a transit service area is not prevented by BC transit or other government agencies,” said Pilcher. “In fact the 2018 BC Seniors Transportation Report indicates that handyDART users should be able to access handyDART anywhere in the province, regardless of the local transit authority they are registered with.”
Pilcher said a bus service in Area F will allow seniors to remain living in their own homes as long as possible.
“Accessibility and appropriate public transportation is the key to allowing seniors to remain living independently and we need to realize that assisting seniors with transportation is more than getting them from here to there,” said Pilcher. “Seniors must be able to get out and engage in their communities, and feel a sense of purpose.”
RDN’s transit select committee has recommended for approval of 5,900-hour conventional and 1,700-hour custom transit expansions set for January. Both will go before the regional district board at its July 23 meeting, with six options for allocating the hours listed in a staff report. It would result in two new bus routes but not in Area F.
Pilcher said she was told by RDN staff that no survey or study has been undertaken regarding the creation of a bus service in Area F.
Busing to Nanaimo Airport and from Cedar to Vancouver Island University are among the options RDN staff is recommending for a 2020 transit expansion.
Expansion also includes an addition of 510 hours for busing on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Day and Good Friday.
The 5,900-hour expansion would cost the RDN $470,450 and $67,900 for the 1,700-hour expansion, which Pearce said will go towards HandyDART service.
RDN Transit will pay 53 per cent of the conventional expansion and 33 per cent of custom with B.C. Transit covering the rest.
— With files from Karl Yu