City of Powell River approves bus pilot project

New busing will be technology-driven

City of Powell River Council has voted to allocate up to $170,000 from the city’s climate action reserve fund toward an on-demand bus pilot initiative.

At the September 3 council meeting, councillor CaroleAnn Leishman, chair of the city’s climate change mitigation and adaptation committee, said this is an exciting opportunity. She said there is federal funding for this pilot program.

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Powell River is one of a few communities selected to try out an on-demand busing pilot project. Leishman said a couple of communities have had pilots and they have been very successful. She added that BC Transit is also interested in getting the data that comes out of this pilot, although BC Transit is not providing any support for the project.

Councillor Rob Southcott said he was excited about the pilot project initiative as well.

“This represents a significant step into the future as far as what transit can be,” said Southcott. “Other studies have shown that this kind of system is very cost-effective and saves resources. It’s amazing that we have this opportunity and we can be leaders by having this happen here. This very well suits our community.”

According to a staff report, staff has been working closely with Spare Labs, the on-demand technology provider, plus Economic Development Canada, on the planning for the project. The report states the city is eligible to take advantage of a $200,000 grant from the federal Built in Canada Innovation Program for this pilot.

The staff report indicated the on-demand bus service would operate one on-demand wheelchair-accessible bus seven days per week, eight hours per day, in the afternoon and evening hours. The service is intended to capture more casual ad-hoc afternoon and evening travel, as well as provide wheelchair access after 5 pm when handyDART service is not available.

The staff report states that an on-demand app and specialized software provide real-time feedback and data on the service performance, so the service can be continuously optimized and adjusted based on usage data and rider feedback.

The report stated that the goal is to launch the service in the fall/winter, pending additional driver recruitment and any COVID-19 restrictions.

As the service is provided by the city and not BC Transit, it will have distinct Zunga Bus branding. The vehicle will receive a bright, attractive wrap and will be identifiable.

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