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'Blue Bus' shuttle service to be a commuter alternative for military personnel

Apr 02 2012

CFB Esquimalt’s popular Blue Boat ferry service could soon be replaced by several yellow school buses, in one military family’s bid to prevent additional traffic congestion to and from the West Shore.

Cynthia Cummings has hammered out a deal with Wilson’s Transportation to provide a direct shuttle for military personnel who will no longer have access to the ferry as of April 30.

Decreased staffing levels prompted CFB Esquimalt to cancel the Blue Boats, which carry staff across the Esquimalt Harbour to avoid rush-hour traffic. The impending cancellation is expected to add between 400 and 600 vehicles to the already heavily congested morning and evening commutes to and from the West Shore.

Greater Victoria mayors, military personnel and B.C. Transit staff have been trying to find solutions to the anticipated problem, such as dedicated bus lanes, but political wheels turn slowly.

“All the discussions are still mired in bureaucracy, so to have someone step up that fast and get it going is fantastic,” said Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, who has pushed for improvements to transit problems since recently being appointed to the Victoria Regional Transit Commission.

Desjardins has taken the lead on the Blue Boat issue, trying to find answers to the traffic problems by working with West Shore mayors from Esquimalt, Colwood, Langford, Metchosin, Sooke, View Royal and Highlands.

Cummings said the buses she has arranged will mean fewer vehicles added to the commute.

“Someone needed to do something,” she said. “There are talks about a private ferry service, but as of now, there is nothing set up. We need to know something is in place.”

Even having additional buses on the road would put pressure on an already fragile system, B.C. Transit spokeswoman Meribeth Burton said.

“If we put 300 to 500 people on buses, we’re still having more vehicles on the road than there are right now,” she said.

Transit would like to create priority lanes for high-occupancy vehicles and buses along Douglas Street, saying such a move would result in reduced congestion throughout the entire system.

Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin and Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard both supported such a move when it was discussed last month at the latest transportation commission meeting.

Cummings and her family say the new bus service will charge about $3 a day for round trips to and from the base, but long-term passes also will be offered.

Monthly passes will cost $60, two-week passes $30 and weekly passes $20.

Despite their yellow paint job, the shuttle service has been dubbed the Blue Bus, paying homage to the soon-to-be nixed ferries.

The buses will pick up passengers at the Colwood Pacific Activity Centre on Rosebank Road and drop them off at the Naden/Dockyard on the naval base.

The bus schedule — to launch May 1 — will be adapted to the staggered start times at CFB Esquimalt, leaving Colwood at 6 a.m., 6:30 a.m. and 6:50 a.m. Departures from the base are scheduled for 4:15 p.m. and 4:45 p.m.

“This is not a high concept. It’s just someone taking the bull by the horns and getting something done,” Cummings said.

The service is not designed to make a profit. Cummings has had to get a business licence and will be getting a bus licence so she can drive as well in an effort to keep the costs as low as possible.

She said she will look for corporate sponsors in the coming weeks as yet another method of reducing expenses.

For more information on the Blue Bus shuttle service, see the website: bluebusshuttle.com

dspalding@timescolonist.com