Whitehorse Transit – A Complete Revamp

Almost all of my posts here tend to revolve around Ben Franklin Transit and topics related to the Tri-Cities, WA. However, I haven’t always lived in this area, so I thought it would be fun to talk a little about the transit agency where I was born and raised: Whitehorse, Yukon (Canada).

In the far north of Canada lies an isolated city called Whitehorse, Yukon. It’s in this city where Whitehorse Transit (which is just one of the two northern Canada transit agencies) operates.

The reason I want to showcase Whitehorse Transit is because of what they did last year in July.

Before July 2011, Whitehorse Transit operated with what’s called a “hub-and-spoke” system. In simple terms, that means that all routes start from one central point and then radiate out in different directions. (The term is an allusion to a bicycle wheel.) In the case of Whitehorse Transit, the central point was at Ogilvie Transfer Station, in front of the Qwanlin Mall. (View the location via Google Maps Street View here.) Since the “spokes” of the system had to travel pretty far distances (the city of Whitehorse is rather spaced out; a local saying is “pearls on a string”), the bus routes were running at a minimum headway of 35 minutes. Some headways were even at every 70 minutes or 105 minutes. Needless to say, it was very hard to use Whitehorse Transit back then unless you carried a copy of the schedule fold-out with you or had every schedule memorized. (If you’re interested in seeing the old schedules/maps, I’ve uploaded them here.)

Eager for a change, officials at Whitehorse Transit went back to the drawing board and brought forth a pretty bold proposal. Instead of the old “hub-and-spoke” model, they wanted to completely change the Whitehorse Transit system and use a “loop” model. In theory, a loop system would mean that all the routes share a common “spine” and then radiate out in their respective directions, with the buses always in motion. However, for economic reasons and simplicity, the institution of the “loop system” still had a central point on which they converged, though it functions more as a mid-route layover as well as the start/end point of each run.

With the new revamp of Whitehorse Transit, things have become much simpler. All headways are now “clockfaced” (i.e., every 30 minutes or every 60 minutes) and it is now much easier to get from one end of town to the other. Every route now runs the length of downtown via 2nd Ave, and then has a different destination north/northwest and south/southeast of downtown. And the response to this new system has been good. CBC North reported back in September that ridership on Whitehorse Transit had risen 18% since the start of the new system. As noted in CBC North’s story, this was especially encouraging since the summer months are when Whitehorse Transit typically sees lower ridership levels.

As Whitehorse Transit looks to the future, they still have a lot to take on. Recently, they joined Google Transit, which is a big milestone for them and will certainly help encourage more ridership. They also have to prepare to bring service to Whistle Bend, the newest neighborhood to be built in Whitehorse. When fully developed, the neighborhood is anticipated to be home to more than 8,000 people (while the current city population is just 26,418), and without a doubt they will want transit service there. Of course, I find this all very exciting, being both from Whitehorse and a “transit nerd,” and I hope that other transit agencies can learn from what Whitehorse Transit has done. Sometimes transit agencies just have to be bold and make big changes. If done right, you’ll get a good response with happier and more riders.

For more information on Whitehorse Transit: http://www.whitehorsetransit.com/

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