Mayor: Barren Bus Stops a Blight

Saanich's Leonard looks for ways to make that wait for the next bus more inviting

Monday, April 16, 2007

More people might be encouraged to ride buses if bus stops were more than a post in the ground, says Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard.

"It bothers me, even in our own municipality, and I've been there a long time so I have to take some of the blame for it, that a lot of bus stops look like a pole in the dirt at the side of the road," Leonard said at a recent Greater Victoria transit meeting.

"With a carrot, maybe we'd all start fixing up these bus stops to be better environments and at the same time get some consistency," Leonard said in a later interview.

Leonard wasn't talking about the bus stops on major routes where advertisers will pay to build shelters, but the stops on the side streets and feeder routes.

"There it's almost a pole in the dirt on the side of the road. That's not going to attract ridership. It doesn't make our customers feel like we care, that their business is valued and we want their business. We put so much effort inside the bus but if it's unpleasant waiting for the bus we're just not going to attract the customers," he said.

The stops are a municipal responsibility, but municipalities, including Saanich, might be more willing to make them more attractive -- perhaps even consider installing lighting or benches -- if transit had a program of matching municipal funds for improvements.

There is a small cost-share program in which transit pays 50 per cent of the cost of making bus stops accessible -- putting in a small pad so someone can wheel from the sidewalk to the pad.

"I think a lot of us would move quicker if there was a small cost share just to bring them up to some sort of standard," Leonard said.

"I think we need to improve the environment in which people wait for a bus. Standing is a difficult thing for some people and they do need a bench. I think lighting is an issue and Carmanah and other firms have come up with these solar-powered lights," Leonard said.

"So I'd like to see them put together a cost share program and a set of standards so that you could go to one standard, say a concrete pad, or a metal bench which is standard to all bus stops; or a sign with routing as another element and then even lighting as an element. So you'd have ingredients, and then the more the municipality put into the stop, the more cost sharing from transit."

It's an idea that has merit, say representatives from some Saanich community associations.

The Cordova Bay Community Association has already partnered with Saanich in installing a bench at one bus stop on Cordova Bay Road at Maxine Lane and is considering a similar partnership for one at Galey Way this year, said association president Roger Stonebanks. He didn't know if the improvements would attract new riders.

"But those who do ride the bus appreciate it because there's somewhere to sit and wait. Will it attract more people? I don't know. That's the great challenge of the time," Stonebanks said.

Gorge Tillicum Association president Paul Gerrard thinks it's a great idea.

"I think if you make the infrastructure more comfortable and available for transit riders you're probably going to get more transit riders. I think it's a simple thing. Unfortunately we're all in our cars and everyone seems to think we should be putting money into highways," Gerrard said.

Leonard said if transit was in partnership in the cost of improving the bus stops then it might think twice about moving them as well.

Transit planner Mike Davis said he would have a report to the commission on bus stops next month.

Leonard said he'd like to see an improvement program in place soon.

"I'd like to see something in place by June, so come fall we can do a lot more than what we're doing now," he said.