6 ways Whitehorse may try to improve city transit

A review of Whitehorse's transit system recommends some changes which could include new marketing campaigns, 'micro-transit', and scrapping the Handy Bus service.

Parts of Whitehorse bus system called inconsistent and inefficient

'Impromptu seating made of school chairs or old benches has been found at several stops, indicating that locals are taking matters into their own hands,' reads a new report on Whitehorse Transit. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Whitehorse city councillors are mulling a proposed new Transit Master Plan which includes some pointed criticisms of the city's existing bus service. 

The 103-page report was presented to council last month. It was drafted by Stantec Consulting Ltd., and it recommends a number of changes for public transit in Yukon's capital.

Council has accepted the report as a "guiding document." According to city spokesperson Myles Dolphin, "any recommendations with financial or service implications will need to go through Council again as well as public input sessions."

Here are some notable ideas and recommendations contained in the plan.

1. 'Handy Bus' days could be numbered 

The city's wheelchair-accessible bus service gets a bad review in the report. The Handy Bus service is called "not productive or efficient." 

It is also called comparatively expensive to run and said to have "higher than normal no-show rates" and wait times.

The report's authors say this should be investigated. They raise concerns about the service's financial sustainability and even suggest that the service should be scrapped within the next two years, and possibly replaced by a taxi scrip program.

A bylaw passed by the city in 2015 requires taxi companies to provide accessible service at the same price. 

Accessible transit is an extension of the conventional service, and a distinct brand that highlights disabilities may be marginalizing to its riders.- Final report, City of Whitehorse Transit Master Plan

The report also recommends that Whitehorse Transit do away with the words 'Handy Bus' entirely.

"Accessible transit is an extension of the conventional service, and a distinct brand that highlights disabilities may be marginalizing to its riders," reads the report. 

A bus leaves the mobile home park of Lobird in Whitehorse. The report recommends the service there be replaced with a different model as 'demand in Lobird is not sufficient to support a conventional transit route.' (Philippe Morin/CBC)

2. Better bus stops

The report says that bus stops in Whitehorse are inconsistent.

Some have official shelters and benches, while others might have some old furniture left by city residents.

"Impromptu seating made of school chairs or old benches has been found at several stops, indicating that locals are taking matters into their own hands," reads the report. 

The authors also mention a functional problem with stops recently decorated with Indigenous art. 

'While aesthetically beautiful, these shelters do not fully serve their purpose, as they lack adequate windscreens, allowing the wind through in the winter,' reads the report. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

"While aesthetically beautiful, these shelters do not fully serve their purpose, as they lack adequate windscreens, allowing the wind through in the winter,"  they write.

The plan also suggests more bicycle parking at city bus stops, saying a "park-and-ride" service may be a way to grow ridership.  

It also suggests the city "investigate the feasibility" of bike racks mounted on city buses which could accommodate fat-tire bikes.

One idea in the report is to build 'park-and-rides,' where people could leave bikes to access bus service. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

3. It's cool to ride the bus

The report says public transit is often seen by people in Whitehorse as a "last resort" option.

"Transit is not perceived as 'cool,'" it says. "It is important that transit be perceived not only as a viable travel option, but
as a 'cool' travel option." 

The strategy proposes a marketing campaign "such as those used in Los Angeles."

It refers to a hyper-colourful ad campaign for L.A. Metro, called "Make Transit Cool." Some of those ads feature superheroes, wrestlers and a furry monster called "Rude Dude" — all to promote transit, and rider etiquette.

The Whitehorse Transit Master Plan is anticipating growth in Whitehorse, with a projection of 15,000 new residents in the next 25 years. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The Whitehorse report also notes that the biggest challenge is often getting people to ride the bus for a first time.

"Oftentimes, people are interested in trying transit but intimidated at the prospect of the 'first ride,'" it says.  

4. 'Micro-transit'

One idea in the report is to cut service to areas with low demand and replace buses with something called "micro-transit."

"There are a few areas within Whitehorse that have low residential densities, including Lobird, Ravens Ridge and Crestview, that would benefit from on-demand solutions," reads the report. 

The idea is for a subscription-based "home-to-hub" service, wherein people could call and be picked up at home — but only during peak travel times of the day. 

"Doing so affords Whitehorse Transit the opportunity to group trips as best as possible, while also helping to dispel the notion that this service is a replacement to the taxi industry," reads the report. 

The report does not recommend the city switch to smaller buses. It says large 12-metre buses remain the best overall pick for the city, as "versatility and interchangeability are important considerations." 

The City of Whitehorse is also considering plans for real-time updates. GPS-tracking technology could allow people to check for their bus on a smartphone. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

5. Evenings and weekends

Whitehorse buses currently don't run on Sundays, and the proposed plan does not change that. However, it does suggest looking at expanding service hours. 

One section about the new Whitehorse neighbourhood of Whistle Bend notes that the area does not currently have transit service on weekends.

The report notes that 'reasonable and incremental increases' in fares will likely be needed as the service expands. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

"As a growing community, this must be addressed if transit is to be considered a viable travel option in the area," the report says.

The report also says that existing transit schedules "[Do] not serve residents with non-traditional work hours, or who wish to travel within the City outside of a traditional work day." 

6. Cost of downtown parking

The authors of the transit plan recommend higher parking fees downtown, as well as the removal of parking spots — like in a game of musical chairs.

The authors of the transit plan recommend higher parking fees downtown. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

"To encourage more transit usage for destinations in the downtown core, Stantec advocates that parking supply be reduced and hourly rates be increased. Currently, Whitehorse's downtown parking rates are some of the lowest in Canada," the report says.

One idea would be a flexible pricing system for parking, which sees higher costs when demand is highest.

'Wow, did we just have a moment?' A Whitehorse transit stop displays some cheeky advertising. (Philippe Morin/CBC )

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