Improved service to Victoria International Airport and improvements to the highest performing bus routes on the Saanich Peninsula appear among the yet-to-be approved short-term priorities for regional bus service.
Looking ahead, BC Transit plans call for a full Peninsula Rapid Bus Line that would eventually see 15-minute service from 7 a.m to 7 p.m., seven days a week connecting Victoria’s Parliament District with Swartz Bay in the long term.
Senior transit planner Levi Megenbir presented an updated Peninsula Local Area Transit Plan to North Saanich council earlier this month and is also due to share the information with Central Saanich and Sidney.
Politicians, business leaders and residents have been pushing BC Transit and the province for improvements to transit on the Peninsula, given its regional transportation hub status with Victoria International Airport, and the BC Ferries and Washington State Ferries terminals. Its industrial and commercial base, and growing density, especially in Sidney, are other factors at play.
According to the CRD’s 2019-2038 Population, Dwelling Units and Employment Projection Report, the Peninsula will continue to grow, drawing people from around the region for employment, residential relocation or visitation.
“One of the key considerations for the Peninsula is the balance between regional travel and local travel needs,” said Megenbir.
This aspect appears throughout the transit plan, which looks to improve both regional and local routes and find synergies where possible.
The long-term vision for the region sees stronger connections between the population centres on the Saanich Peninsula combined with rapid bus connections to the region-at-large, Megenbir said.
Within three to five years, residents could see the initial implementation of the proposed Peninsula Rapid Bus Line, which would increase service on Route 70 to every 30 minutes, seven days a week, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. as a stepping stone toward 15-minute service. But Megenbir warned against excessive expectations, noting that such a rapid bus line would require a significant phase-in period.
In the more immediate term, the updated local area plan calls for improved service to the airport, a long-articulated demand in the face of calls to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions and improve accessibility.
While it is one of the recommended priorities, Megenbir said, it must still go through the transit expansion prioritization process, which seeks to balance competing demands using criteria such as projected ridership, surrounding population served and potential GHG avoidance.
“This option would be popped into that process for next year,” he said. “It’s hard to say when it would come out, but it is identified as a short-term, top-priority improvement.”
The updated plan appears against the backdrop of two developments. The first sees the arrival of a last-mile distribution centre operated by online retail giant Amazon on Victoria Airport Authority land.
While that future development did not force changes to the plan, Megenbir said, it underscored prevailing trends showing West Sidney and lands around the airport need additional service. “From a transit ridership growth perspective, it is positive and as ridership continues to grow on the routes serving those areas, we will continue to look at investments in service levels,” he said.
The second development is the concurrent reviews of official community plans in Sidney, North Saanich and Central Saanich, which call for improved, collaborative transportation planning, Megenbir said.
When asked how demands for improved regional transit on the Peninsula stack up against those from other parts of the region, he referred back to the prioritization process.
Some characteristics used in the process such as project ridership and population served will potentially favour higher-density areas, he said. “That being said, there are some rapidly densifying areas on the Peninsula as well, including Sidney. Saanichton is growing and seeing some density improvements and Brentwood Bay continues to develop,” he said.
The plan will undergo final revisions in January before going to the Victoria Regional Transit Commission for endorsement, according to a timeline presented in the report.
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