Regional District of Nanaimo’s transit select committee will consider a recommendation this month to replace RDN Transit’s HandyDart bus fleet. (Black Press file)

Regional District of Nanaimo to consider HandyDart bus fleet replacement

New light-duty, gas-powered buses sought by funding partner B.C. Transit

The Regional District of Nanaimo transit select committee will consider whether to back B.C. Transit in replacing 15 HandyDart buses.

The HandyDart service, offering transit for registrants with disabilities, sees RDN Transit leasing 15 diesel-powered, light-duty Chevrolet Arboc buses from B.C. Transit, its funding partner, at a yearly rate of $18,500. Replacement takes place every five to seven years, according to an RDN staff report and B.C. Transit seeks to purchase new light-duty, gas-powered buses made by Blue Bird. The committee is expected to discuss the subject at its Jan. 21 meeting.

Current HandyDart vehicles have ramps, but the new buses will have rear side lifts, which will give riders with mobility assistance easier access. The report also states that buses will have high floors, which will give users a better ride due to “conventional suspension design” and are expected to be cheaper with lower maintenance costs.

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Daniel Pearce, RDN transportation and emergency services general manager, said while only half of the RDN’s HandyDart fleet is due for replacement, the newer buses in the fleet will be used by B.C. Transit at other locations. The rear side lifts will also help drivers, he said.

“One thing that we heard from our riders, as well as our operators is that the buses that we’re using that are low floor, they can be a challenge for loading wheelchairs and unloading wheelchairs as well as loading ambulatory passengers…” said Pearce. “For maintenance it was creating challenges and then from an operational standpoint, loading and unloading wheelchairs and ambulatory passengers could be difficult.”

Exact pricing is not currently available, but staff said costs are estimated to be less than the $18,500 lease fee. B.C. Transit will cover about 47 per cent of the cost, while the RDN will cover about 53 per cent.

While RDN Transit has compressed natural gas buses in its fleet, that option is not available for the HandyDart buses.

If approval is given by the committee, the recommendation will be forwarded to the RDN board.

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