Resident concerns about impending changes to bus service on the Semiahmoo Peninsula have prompted White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker to ask TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond for more public forums on the issue.
According to some local TransLink critics, service changes could not only affect the timing of connections between Vancouver and neighbourhood service, but also downsize the buses serving the Peninsula.
“I think it’s something that is going to frustrate not only the people of White Rock but also those of South Surrey,” Walker said at the June 24 council meeting.
He added that he also intends to talk with Surrey council members about collaborative action to influence TransLink with regard to changes, and that White Rock council is also behind efforts to set up more public consultation.
“We’re of the belief that if TransLink doesn’t hold an open forum or open forums, the City of White Rock will, and we will put that together.”
While TransLink representatives have said the due diligence has been done in informing transit users of potential changes, local critics, including Coun. David Chesney, have blasted the organization for lack of communication with stakeholders.
The last TransLink consultation and information event locally was held at White Rock Community Centre April 10.
Chesney said that he, Coun. Anthony Manning and community activist Pattie Petrala were among only a few who attended.
Walker’s comments came in response to questions from community watchdog Roderick Louis, who said TransLink “planned cancellation of all full-sized bus services beginning in September.”
“This, effectively, will leave the entire Semiahmoo Peninsula without full-sized bus services, except for Monday to Friday rush hours,” Louis said.
He added that he was concerned that the decision were made by TransLink “without consulting the public, and providing them with a list of options and alternatives” and that the intention of management is to “replace full-sized bus services with a mini-bus.”
Louis added that mini-buses pose a challenge to “ambulatory-challenged” riders, including people with wheelchairs, and also mothers with strollers who would have difficulty getting up and down the bus steps.
“There should be a low-floor bus servicing the Peninsula,” he said, noting that mini-buses only accomodate some 24 people, as opposed to 60 for full-sized buses and as many as 88 on double-decker buses.”
TransLink spokesperson Jillian Drew told Peace Arch News Thursday, however, that while TransLink proposes to to split the current 351 service to employ double-decker buses between White Rock Centre and Bridgeport, and shuttle buses between White Rock Centre and Crescent Beach (due to lower ridership on that part of the route), standard-sized buses will continue to run on the Peninsula for the 345, 375 and 321 routes.
She said the splitting of the existing 351 service “is still a proposal and we are working on the final recommendations incorporating feedback during and after the consultation period.”
Drew also disputed that shuttle buses would pose a greater inconvenience to mobility challenged passengers.
“All of our buses are fully accessible,” she said.
In response to Louis’ question of whether White Rock would join forces with Surrey in asking for “at least one, and preferably several public forums” on the changes, Walker said he planned to meet with Desmond and a TransLink senior operations manager to ask for such public consultation before changes are implemented.
Later in the meeting, Chesney said all of council shares the “grave concerns” Louis has about public transit.
“If the community doesn’t rise up en-masse, it will probably happen, sadly,” he said. “Once something’s taken away it’s terribly difficult to get back.”
Under proposed changes, disclosed at the April 10 event, the 351 would start and end its route in White Rock Centre, rather than carrying on through Ocean Park and Crescent Beach.
The 352 – which runs at peak times only – would eliminate its current 144 Street to 148 Street section, travelling directly to and from White Rock Centre along 16 Avenue (North Bluff Road).
The proposed new 350 shuttle is intended to compensate for the changes to the 351 by offering connection between White Rock Centre, Ocean Park and Crescent Beach.
This has led to concerns – voiced last month by Chesney – that the Vancouver service and neighborhood service would not match up, potentially leaving riders stranded in uptown White Rock after 9 p.m.
Drew rejected this scenario in a recent email to PAN, however.
“I’m afraid Mr. Chesney is wrong in his assertion the last 350 bus leaves at 9 p.m.,” she said.
“While there would be an additional transfer required for people travelling past White Rock Centre, the 350 would still have the same hours of operation as the 351.
“Route 350 would continue to connect White Rock Centre to Crescent Beach until 2 a.m. and the last 350 would not leave White Rock Centre until the last 351 has arrived there.”