Since 1991, Smithers has had a transit bus, a fact celebrated by current and previous mayors last Wednesday.
The bus has of course seen many changes over the years, and in fact when it first started wasn’t a bus at all, but a van. Predominantly used to transport seniors within Smithers, that first year they saw 5,400 people utilize the brand-new service.
Now with two busses that can hold 20 people each, not nine as the van could, things have only gone up for the Smithers and District Transit, operated by the Smithers Community Services Association and partnered by B.C. Transit, the Town of Smithers, Village of Telkwa, and Regional District of Bulkley Nechako.
Their routes have expanded as well, incorporating Telkwa into the fold as well as some of the rural area.
Currently, 18,000 passengers take the transit bus annually.
Mike Wyllie, the driver and manager, has seen it all. When he first started in 1991, he only meant to stay for a couple of years, he said. Twenty years later, he’s glad he missed his goal on that one.
“Two years transformed into 20 years and I’ve enjoyed it,” Wyllie said. “I’m looking forward to the remainder until I retire.”
The progression from the van to the busses was nice, he remarked, especially when it comes to getting those in wheelchairs buckled in. Before, it took a certain amount of athletics, flexibility and luck, he said, but with these, it’s a matter of minutes.
They hope to expand their services into the future as well, said Wyllie, who would love to see a third bus before his retirement. More hours to accommodate the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. commuters would be a nice thing to see as well, he said.
Back in the ‘90s, it was one of the small things they were working on, former Telkwa Mayor Greg Fortune said, but looking at it now he was glad the three local governments could pull together to make it happen.
“We’ve come a long way,” Sharon Hartwell agreed, also a former mayor of Telkwa.
Their biggest challenge moving forward, Telkwa Mayor Carman Graf said, is increasing the ridership. Everyone he’s spoken with who uses the system seems greatly pleased with it, so all they need to do is promote that and move forward.
Following that line of thinking, Smithers council has just re-instituted the transit committee to look at ridership, Smithers Mayor Cress Farrow said, and ways they could increase it, to keep the service growing as it moves ahead to its third decade of operations.
“What’s happening right now is the price of fuel is dictating to people that it’s really a wise move to switch over to transit and to leave their cars at home,” Farrow said.
RDBN Area A Director Stoney Stoltenberg agreed. While not one of their initiatives, a greener, cleaner mode of transportation is important for everyone, he said.
“I would like to see more people utilize it and we’ll do what we can to make it more convenient for people, but it’s a sign of things to come as we become more urbanized and more traffic, the more people that ride transit the better,” Stoltenberg said. “It’s good for the environment and it’s good for traffic on the road.”
For more information on the transit bus’ schedule, call 250-847-4993.