FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – New initiatives and technology-based improvements are pulling into the station for BC Transit this year— and Fort St. John is hopping on board.

The City of Fort St John has accepted the 2022-23 annual operating agreement (AOA) between the city and BC Transit.

The AOA is an annual renewal of the arrangement between the province and the city to operate both conventional transit and handyDART services.

The AOA presented Tuesday prior to the regular council meeting, outlines tariff and fare information, service specifications (including new initiatives) and budget information.

Fort St. John is one of the few municipalities where ridership increased after the COVID-19 pandemic. In many other communities it has yet to recover: province-wide, ridership is at 70 per cent of pre-pandemic numbers. In Fort St. John, ridership increased four per cent.

Gas prices likely have something to do with this increase, as well, according to the presentation from BC Transit to council.

The HandyDART service, a door-to-door, bookable transit option for individuals unable to use conventional public transportation, is still 28 per cent below pre-pandemic ridership numbers.

The total costs for conventional transit in the city outlined in the AOA is $2,044,200. The city’s budget for the year already includes the necessary funds for the city’s portion of this operating budget, which is $929,028.

Total costs for custom transit–or the handyDART service–is $857,560. The city’s share of these costs is $279,861.

Using public transportation in Fort St. John costs an adult $2.00, and students and seniors $1.75. A monthly bus pass is $40.00 for an adult and $35.00 for students and seniors. 

HandyDART fees are $2.00 per registered user and $2.00 per accompanying companion within Fort St. John and $4.00 each to or from Taylor and Charlie Lake. Attendants with registered users ride for free, as do children. 

Children under 12 ride for free on both services.

Upcoming initiatives—and plans for improvements in the future— are reflected in the budget.

Several technology-based enhancements are arriving on Fort St. John buses soon. 

The first of these are passenger information displays, which visually show the next stop and announce it verbally through the bus. These are in use throughout the province and will be implemented in the city over the next year.

The next addition is NextRide, which is a province-wide program that will provide real-time information about bus occupancy and bus locations as they travel their routes throughout the city. This information will be available on both the BC transit app and other maps-focused applications. Nextride will launch to the public this July.

Electronic fare collection is also coming to Fort St. John. This system will allow contactless payment from credit or debit cards, smartphones, or watches. Design for this improvement, which will allow riders to purchase passes through the app instead of a visit to city hall, is underway. It is set to be launched in fall or winter, 2023.

Future changes and improvements in transit services, including changes in hours and routes, will be the result of a 5-7 year plan. This project seeks to identify un- and under-served routes and other issues to better serve riders and the community as a whole. Pre-work on this future service plan is set to begin this fall.

Grace Giesbrecht

Grace Giesbrecht is a news reporter for EnergeticCity.ca who recently graduated from Trinity Western University with a bachelor of arts in Media + Communications. She was born and raised just outside of Fort St. John. She began reporting for her university’s student newspaper and interned with Ottawa Life Magazine where she developed a passion for asking questions, telling stories, and the written word. In her free time, you can find her drinking coffee, snowboarding, or reading novels.