PORT HARDY—A pair of high-tech new buses should make riding easier on patrons of the Mount Waddington Transit System.
It’s already working wonders for its drivers.
“I love the ride,” MWT driver Earl Shirtliff said while waiting for passengers to board at Thunderbird Mall Friday afternoon. “It takes out all that bounce and friction we had before.”
Mount Waddington Transit took possession last week of two 2014 Chevrolet Arboc “Spirit of Mobility” buses — “Fresh off the assembly line,” Mount Waddington Transit coordinator Mary Mavis said.
The special low-floor buses have the same 20-passenger capacity and the same boxy shape as the Ford Polar buses they replace. But the similarities end there.
The biggest advance is a ramp entry, replacing the traditional entry steps. For mobility-challenged riders, the ramp can extend down to the curb or street level, so wheelchair-bound riders can self-load into the spacious open area directly behind the driver. Previously, the driver had to jump out, open the rear door and operate a manual ramp to load wheelchair-bound riders into a spot in the rear of the older buses.
In addition, the new front-entry ramp is heated, and in winter it can be quickly levelled even on snow-covered ground.
“It’s a nice safety feature for our mobility-challenged riders,” said Mavis. We think it will improve the ride for the rider because now they will be directly behind the driver, allowing for a quick response in case of emergency.”
The new buses also have a “kneeling” feature that essentially lowers the entire chassis to assist passengers, depending on the terrain, by lowering the entry to within five inches of the curb or street. They also boast a fire-supression system in the engine compartment in the rare event of an engine fire.
Another feature is an exterior button that allows the driver to open the bus door from the outside.
“If we do see a passenger who needs assistance, the driver can hop out and open the door with a button from the outside,” said Mavis.
The first bus was placed into service last Thursday, Aug. 7, in Port Hardy. The second bus began its run the following day in Port McNeill.
One of the fleet’s Ford buses has been retained as a backup vehicle.
Mount Waddington Transit celebrated its sixth anniversary on July 2. The service covers Port Hardy, Storey’s Beach, Coal Harbour, Port McNeill, Hyde Creek, Woss and, each Saturday through the winter, a connection to Mount Cain’s ski bus.
It was started through a grant from Island Health (formerly Vancouver Island Health Authority) and operates through joint funding from the Regional District of Mount Waddington, the Kwakiutl, Quatsino and Gwa-sala-’Nakwaxda’xw First Nations and passenger fares. The service is operated by North Island Community Services Society.
MWT did increase the cost of its monthly passes and Super Passes in June of this year, but the arrival of the new buses is not accompanied by any fare increases. They were purchased with funds provided through the federal gas tax.
“Everything else stays the same,” said Mavis. “There are no changes to the costs or schedule.”
The most noticeable change, said Mavis, who had a chance to take a preview ride in a new bus, will be the ride itself.
“In my opinion, the seats are much more comfortable,” she said. “The ride is smoother, and it’s quieter.”
For information on Mount Waddington Transit, visit www.bctransit.com and use the “Choose your community” drop-down menu to select a North Island location. Or call the Mount Waddington Transit office at 250-956-3151.