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Old Posted Sep 6, 2008, 6:17 AM
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October start possible for Malahat bus
Lexi Bainas, The Citizen
Published: Friday, September 05, 2008

A commuter bus service connecting the Cowichan Valley and Victoria could be reality as soon as late October, according to a regional district official.
Joe Barry, corporate secretary of the Cowichan Valley Regional District, said Wednesday that enthusiasm from governments at all levels is moving the project along, but now the CVRD wants to hear from the public.
Three open houses are being scheduled for Sept. 20 to hear ideas from prospective riders on routes and schedules. Attendance is expected to be heavy.

"There's been a lot of interest on this. I can say I've had more phone calls and emails on this than probably any other proposed expansion in the five years I've been here," Barry said, about early reaction to the proposed rush-hour service.

"Obviously there are people who want to save money on gas but there are also people who just don't want to drive that road in the dark in the pouring rain in the winter months," he said.

The desire to better spend that commuting time is also a strong motivator for some people.

"When you're driving yourself, you have to concentrate on the road but if you're in a bus with a reclining seat you can take a laptop or a portable DVD player, which would be my choice. You can also take a book, of course, or there will be some people who sleep. You have just added another hour to your day," Barry said.

How soon the commuter buses will actually start rolling is "the million dollar question," he said.

"We are hoping when all the approvals come through that perhaps this can be running by late October, early November. The exact start date hasn't been decided yet because the approvals are falling into place."

A bylaw amendment was given three readings at the last CVRD board meeting authorizing the needed changes so, on Sept. 10, Barry hopes, the Transit Committee will approve the details in principle.

"We're hoping to adopt the bylaw amendment at the end of September. The various municipalities and the electoral area directors need to give consent to the adoption of the bylaw. The bylaw will then be sent off to the province for approval. If approved, and if expedited by the province, we're going to have a special board meeting on Sept. 30," he said.

Meanwhile, details also are going to be presented to the Victoria Transit Commission in mid-September.

"We are taking the plans to the political bodies in Victoria and here for their approval first off because if there are any changes they want to see at the political level we can make those changes before the open houses. This is a shared venture."

The public meetings Sept. 20 are really important, according to Barry.
"Right now it's a total clean slate. Where are the buses going to go? Where are they going to come from? What times? This is where we can actually hear from people who are going to be doing the commute. We may have a number of people say: 'Hey, I have to be at the corner of Douglas and Fort Streets for 7:15 a.m. What time is the first bus going to get into Victoria?' Stuff like that is what we need to hear."

These three get-togethers on Sept. 20 are tentatively scheduled for the Malahat Fire Hall, first thing in the morning, then the Kerry Park Recreation Centre in late morning and then at the Island Savings Centre (formerly Cowichan Centre) later in the day.

Original details of the service were announced by the province some time ago.
"This is the first time, to my knowledge, that this has ever happened in the province," Barry said. "They have bought eight buses. That doesn't happen. The province really wants this to go forward, to deal with the issues we all are quite aware of on the Malahat. Two of the buses will be spares because we have to provide a reliable service."

Barry reiterated that the service is scheduled for rush-hour commuters only.
"I've had people phone up thinking the bus is going to run back and forth all day. No, it isn't," he said.

Shoppers can still take the buses but must remember the schedule is not there to suit them.

"They're going to get there really early, long before any stores open." However, another group that will be interested are students going to UVic.
There are going to be three buses leaving Duncan in the morning at staggered times, but still early.

"When you do the math backwards, the last bus has got to leave here at about 7 a.m.," he said.

The other three buses will go from the Shawnigan Lake area to Victoria, also on staggered schedules, making a total of six buses south in the morning and six buses north in late afternoon.

The vehicles will be headquartered in Duncan at the CVRD's current transit garage, according to Barry.
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