Cars lined up along a country road

The Transportation Solutions Project for Cortes, Quadra and some Outer Islands

A new passenger transportation solutions project was launched for Cortes, Quadra and some of the Outer Islands. Kate Maddigan, of the Cortes Community Economic Development Association (CCEDA), obtained a grant to fund the project and will oversee developments on Cortes. Quadra Island facilitator Jennifer Banks-Doll will be overseeing the project on Quadra and the Outer Islands. Their first step is fact gathering but unlike past initiatives, they intend to implement some of these ideas. A survey being launched this Monday, May 13, and an online forum on May 21. 

People on the Hornby Bus – submitted photo

“We are trying to get something established on our islands and in our community to help people get around and at the same time to reduce carbon emissions, ease ferry overloads and have lots of win-win-wins  in our communities. We’re looking at some different options.  We really want to get a sense from people living here, as well as people visiting as tourists, visitors, or family members – what would work best for them,” explained Jennifer Banks-Doll.

Cortes Currents: Do you have any metrics for  the demand on Cortes, Quadra, Read or any of these places you talked about? 

Jennifer Banks-Doll: “That’s part of what we’re trying to assess and really the survey that we’re going to be launching on Monday will be our first step at assessing those metrics. It’s a really hard thing to assess because people don’t know if they’re actually going to use a service until it’s actually available. Then they see: Does it work with their schedule? Is it the right price?  Do they prefer to drive or are they feeling like, ‘Oh, I’m getting older, I’d rather be driven.’ It’s really hard to assess those things until you actually do a pilot. We’re going to do our best  and look at those different options and see what the demand might be.” 

Kate Madigan added, “In the intercommunity passenger transportation study that was done last summer for all of Vancouver Island, people really said that any service that you try and launch needs to be affordable.  It needs to be convenient, and it needs to be frequent enough that you can get enough ridership to make it viable.”

“Those are the criteria that people are looking for. We’re doing this to make sure that we get it right. Whatever we happen to launch  and make sure that we hit those three things at least, so that people will use it.”  

“It’s really exciting to think that we could pull something off, but we can’t do it alone. We really need people  to show interest, give us their opinions and let us know what’s going to work for them.  We need to know these things for it to be successful.” 

“This is a community consultation and it’s a huge project because  we’re doing not just one community, we’re doing two communities. More than that, we’re trying to also involve Sonora, Read, and other Outer Islands. There are almost 5,000 people in our area.”

“We’re having a session in the spring and then another session later on in the summer, so there’s quite a bit going on. It’s a big project and we’ve got a really good project team.”  

“I’m just so thankful to have Jen involved. She’s got a really great experience and lots of skills. Jen launched a website to help explain everything.” 

Jennifer Banks-Doll: “We decided to house it on the CCEDA website because it’s easier that way. So if you go to the CCEDA website, which is CCEDA.ca and then look for ‘Transportation Consultation.’ You’ll see tons of info, including what other communities are doing and some of the key learnings from previous studies, and what currently exists. It’s a little bit about the different options that are the most common. There’s really a lot on one page.”  

“There have been a lot of transportation studies for the area. We’re going to  go through those and make sure that we’re not duplicating anything, but rather building on what the other studies have accomplished.  This study is actually trying to get to the point where we’ve actually figured out what route people would like to have. and what the time of day people would like to have a service operating. Other studies haven’t really done that.”

Cortes Currents: Do you have any ideas about what this proposed transportation service might look like?  

Jennifer Banks-Doll: “There have been a few other studies done, some more recently than others. Certainly there was a study done on Quadra  around a community bus, and it was actually a master’s thesis, so it was quite an extensive study, really helpful for us. ICAN, the Island Climate Action Network on Quadra, did a survey around ride sharing a few years ago that hasn’t actually been released, but it will be released in the course of this project. We’re also looking at ride hailing as an option, which is a new version of a taxi. Both Quadra and Cortes have had taxis or van taxis in the past. Nothing is running right now, but that could be something that I think people are interested in reviving, if possible.” 

“Those are some of the tried and true options that exist in other communities. There could be other things that might work here, that we just need to think up and try out.” 

“It might be nice to say a bit more about the learning forum because that’s sort of the first big event and it’s happening on Tuesday, May 21st from 7 to 9 PM and it’s via ZOOM so that everyone in our communities can come together at the same time. Certainly if people from outside of our communities want to join as well, I think we would welcome them and we’re going to have four different speakers and we’re looking for our fifth speaker.”

“Right now  we’ll be having a speaker talking about the Gertie bus, which is the bus on Gabriola. That’s probably the most famous community bus in Canada.”  

“We’ll have speakers from the Denman Island bus, which is a summer only bus and an on demand Zunga bus happening in the Sunshine Coast. I’m really interested to hear how that is working.” 

“We’re going to have Coastal Rides joining us, and they’re a ride hailing service  currently  operating in the Comox Valley and Campbell River. They were on Texada for a while. So I’m curious to learn about that experience.” We are also looking for someone who can talk about ride sharing programs that have been tried.  There’s a few on Bowen Island. One was using an app and one is a ‘vanpool,’ which goes on a regular schedule from Bowen to UBC every weekday. We’re just looking to confirm a speaker on ride sharing.” So that’s going to be an amazing forum. We’re going to have people speak and then we’ll have some time for Q&A.”  

“We’ll probably be following up with all of those services to learn more because there’s just so much to learn about how they got started and where their funding comes from and what things they’ve tried and what’s been successful? What’s failed or been a struggle?  The learning forum will be a really inspirational way to kick off  our consultation.” 

Cortes Currents: I’m especially interested in learning how long some of these existing projects have been running and how long did it take to set them up?  

Jennifer Banks Doll: “The Gertie bus has been operational since 2013.  They started as a three year pilot. And they’ve tried different things over the years. I think it actually took them  around five years to do all the preliminary studies and fundraising and all those kinds of things.”

Kate Maddigan: “It was a pilot project for  two or three years with volunteer drivers. Just as those drivers were starting to go, ‘I’m really burnt out’  they finally figured out the funding. Now they have paid drivers and everybody’s on board.”  

Cortes Currents: Can you give any details about the other ones  specifically how long have they been operational and how long did it take to get them going? 

Kate Maddigan: “The Zunga bus is actually still  a pilot through the city of Powell River. It’s a  small bus, but it’s on demand. You can book it and they’ll come to your door and pick you up.” 

“I don’t know much about Coastal Rides. It’s a ride hailing app,  like Uber,  but  Vancouver Island based. They operate out of Nanaimo and I think they operate over towards Tofino.” 

“Then the Denman Island bus:  they’re  in the same position as Quadra. They have people from another island, namely Hornby, trying to get across their island. Because they offer it in summer months, they have tourist uptake as well. That one will be an interesting one for Cortes to see if we can figure out something for just summer months.” 

Jennifer Banks-Doll: “Every community needs to figure out what’s going to work for them. A few communities had buses running, and then during COVID,  they actually shut down and now some of those communities are looking to start up again. For example, Mayne Island had a bus. It’s not functioning right now, but what is functioning is a day tripper bus that goes once a week to Sidney and Victoria.  Anyone can take it. It’s not just for seniors, which a lot of these types of services can be. It’s for anyone who wants to go to Vancouver Island for whatever reason. It can be for appointments. It can be just a visit or a one way trip.” 

“We have the benefit of learning from so many other  communities’ experiences, because a lot of the other islands, especially the Southern Gulf Islands have tried some versions of buses. A lot of them have tried some version of  ride-sharing  or taxis as well.” 

“The nice thing for us is that  the government of BC is now highly motivated to see communities be successful and to have some kind of passenger transportation service right now. The help that’s available is better than it’s ever been.”

“That’s really important because, especially for something like a bus,  there’s no transit in Canada that operates without some kind of government assistance. They recognize that and  would be willing to help us  if we wanted to get something off the ground.” 

Cortes Currents: Excuse me, you said no transit operates without government funding – not even the big ones? 

Jennifer Banks-Doll: “Absolutely not the big ones. It’s all partially government funded. The fares that we pay are highly subsidized.”  

“This transportation project requires a long term commitment because we’re talking about a change in habits. We’re so accustomed to using our cars. To make a change takes time and we need to give  whatever happens a chance.”  

Cortes Currents: Tell us about the group that you’re working with and the mechanics of it.

Kate Maddigan: “This is an effort of the Cortes Community Economic Development Association, otherwise known as CCEDA,  and that’s a Cortes based organization. We  were able to secure the funds for this project . We could have gone to an outside consultant  to see the project through, but  we just wanted local people delivering this project and to have representatives from both islands, at least, if not others. We actually are having representation from Sonora Island as well in their advisory group.” 

“The project team is Jen and myself,  Lisa Ferentinos, who is also a representative of CCEDA. She’s on the board and she has a very keen interest in passenger transportation.  Steve Earle from Gabriola Island was instrumental in launching the GERTI bus on Gabriola and he’s still involved in that.  And we have Sadhu Johnston, who’s helping Jen with the community engagement. That’s the group: the five of us.”

“We’re trying to ensure that there’s a diversity of perspectives represented. And so we have a group of advisors that we’re going to meet with a few times to make sure that we’re not missing anything, along with stakeholders who might be using the bus.”

Cortes Currents: Is there anything either of you would want to add?  

Jennifer Banks-Doll: “This Monday, May 13th, we’re launching our survey, and that’ll run for about a week. We’ll be launching it through Facebook, the Tideline, the Discovery Islander, the Birdseye, and also through email through our networks.” 

“Then the learning forum is the next week, on the Tuesday, the 21st.” 

“On June 1st, we’ll be doing our first community meeting, which will be on Quadra at the Legion.” 

“On June 2nd, we’ll be at Mansons Hall on Cortes, and then on June 6th, which is a Thursday in the evening, we’ll be doing a Zoom meeting for those who couldn’t attend our in person community meetings.”

“Later in the summer, we’re going to be doing another round of consultations to try to nail down some of  the details.”

Links of Interest: 

Existing Transportation Programs

All icons, and photo of the line-up waiting for the ferry at Heriot Bay – by Jennifer Banks Doll

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