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Priorities nix free NYE transit

It's been at least five years since New Year's Eve revellers in the Central Okanagan were able to get a free ride home and that isn't expected to change anytime soon.

Despite a recent Castanet poll in which 967 (82.44%) people believe a free service should be offered New Year's Eve like it is in other communities, Kelowna Regional Programs Manager, Jerry Dombowsky, says such a service is not feasible here.

Dombowsky says, unlike larger systems in cities like Vancouver and Victoria, weekday service ends at 11:30 p.m.

Offering the service into the wee hours of the morning would require extensive overtime in order to keep the buses and the drivers on the road.

"There is really no such thing as a free service - there is a cost to it," says Dombowsky.

"Given that we have a whole lot of priorities in our transit system including high priority items like maintaining service schedules and handling bus overload situations and limited resources to apply, I think we have higher priorities that would benefit a larger number of people."

Dombowsky says transit did experiment with a free service on New Year's Eve several years ago but found there was very low ridership and a high rate of vandalism.

"At the time we found the type of rider we did attract was not the right one for us. At that time we experienced the highest on-bus vandalism we had ever had in one single night-before."

He says if a free service were to be offered in the future, transit would also have to look at the cost of increasing security on each of the buses.

"Overall it would be a nice thing to do but it is a question of resources and priorities but, if we are going to apply our limited funding resources to something we have to look at what's the biggest demand and what's going to give us the best bang for our buck," adds Dombowsky.

"Right now, to be honest, I would have to say it's maintaining schedule reliability for the people that take the bus on a regular basis and dealing with the overloads. We're running a pretty tight ship funding wise."

Dombowsky says the decision was made at the regional transit level and, while City Councils throughout the region do provide transit with direction, they typically don't get involved in day-to-day decisions like this unless they receive enough complaints or see a demand and ask for further information.



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