TransLink testing on-demand bus app in one Metro Vancouver community

Bowen Island Undercurrent

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Starting next week Bowen will be the testing ground for a new TransLink on-demand bus service.

TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond  announced the project at a press conference in Snug Cove Monday morning.

For the next two months, Bowen will have an on-demand bus service on weekday evenings and weekends. The two shuttle buses in the pilot program look like the one in the photo above. Photo by Bronwyn Beairsto/Bowen Island Undercurrent

The pilot project will run between July 15 and September 15 and will provide service between 4:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on weekdays and between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on the weekends. The regular Bowen bus service will remain unchanged.

“Starting next week, anyone on Bowen Island will be able to book a bus service on demand. That means pick up and drop off locations can be determined by customers,” said Desmond.

The two custom-wrapped shuttle buses brought to Bowen for the pilot project have a designated service area (which includes the Bowen Island Golf Course out at Cowan Point, Valhalla and Cates Hill).

The blue on the map above is the existing service area while the orange routes are the areas serviced by the new on-demand service. Photo by Bronwyn Beairsto/Bowen Island Undercurrent

People on Bowen (resident or tourist) will reserve pickups and drop offs through the TapRide app, online or by phoning into a hotline. The service on weekdays will have fixed pickups at the ferry (4:45 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m., and 8:20 p.m.)while the weekend service will have flexible pickups and drop offs.

The app is available on the App Store or Google Play. Users will pay usual transit fare when they board the bus (they don’t pay in-app).

Desmond said that TransLink was looking for as many people as possible to take part in the project.

“This emerging transit model offers significant future potential in certain parts of our region. Existing routes could benefit from a mixture of fixed stops with on-demand transit,” said Desmond. He noted that Bowen’s limited geography and road network was one of the reasons they chose the island for the pilot project.

“This is a bit of an experiment. We’re going to be in the learning mode. We’re going to listen to the customers and the stakeholders and the operator during this pilot,” he said. He also said that the pilot and service will end come September, at which point TransLink will look at the need and use of the expanded service area.

The TapRide app will have the capacity to track on-demand bus locations in real time and view arrival estimates. It is the second phase of a beta test app TransLink ran on the island earlier this year, which allowed for seat-reservations but not on-demand pickups or drop offs.

Desmond said that for now, the on-demand service will be restricted to the pilot parameters (so not available for community charters and the like).

Bowen’s Mayor Gary Ander said that the Bowen Island Municipality was excited to be part of the pilot project.

“With a classic hub and spoke network, a large landmass and a relatively small population, servicing the various communities with convenient transportation has been an ongoing wish of our Transportation Advisory Committee,” he said.

Bowinn Ma, Parliamentary Secretary for TransLink and MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale was also on hand for the announcement.

Bowinn Ma, Parliamentary Secretary for TransLink and Bowen Mayor Gary Ander at the TransLink announcement July 8. Photo by Bronwyn Beairsto/Bowen Island Undercurrent

“We know that public transit is an environmentally and socially responsible way to travel, but it’s not always as convenient or on-demand as driving yourself,” said Ma.

“This pilot project can serve as an important test bed for what the future of public transit might look like across the province,” she said.

The announcement came just an hour before the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced proposed ride hailing regulations that could allow services like Uber to operate in the province by the end of the year.

Every person who takes part in the Bowen pilot program will be entered in a draw to win a $200 gift certificate to Tuscany Restaurant.