*Enter group chat*

Arlene:Do you want to go watch a movie at Orchard park right now?” 

Sukhleen: “Next bus is in an hour and half. Sorry, can’t make it!”

Harsimrat: “Let’s goooo. We should also go get pizza after the movie.”

Manjot: “There is no bus to get home at 9 after the movie ends. I don’t feel like walking in the cold. Can we reschedule, please?”

Jessica: “Let’s meet. I can drive you guys there and back!”

Having lived in Kelowna for just over a month and half now, the issues with public transport have been very apparent. If you are not fortunate enough to own a car or are not physically able to drive, planning your day around the current transit system is your only option.

In late November, a group of fellow students – Kristin, Emily, Fabiola, and Sierra – who are part of the Fridays for Future Kelowna climate action group, decided to address this pressing issue by organizing a town hall meeting.

With a great turnout of over 50 people, the team facilitated a dialogue between the transit workers, students, and members of the community. Sierra said that, “We chose the format of a town hall to get everyone involved and brainstorm about what is working and what is not and what their visions for the future look like.” Emily added that, “It was a great opportunity to hear the different perspectives and build a more nuanced approach to the transit experience in Kelowna.”

Source: Fabiola Melchior

The idea of a town hall meeting came about from Kristen’s interaction with the transit workers and Fridays for Future Kelowna’s involvement with the transit strike earlier last year. There were a lot of intersections between what the climate group stands for and the transit situation in Kelowna. It was a collaboration between both students who wanted to take some action for the climate and for social justice.

Fabiola stated that, “Environmental and social issues are so close to each other that it is important we collaborate with each other.” Greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles are one of the largest sources of pollution. An efficient, effective, and affordable transit system can positively contribute towards increasing air quality and reducing emission levels in a city by allowing commuters to choose more carbon friendly options. The increased reliance on personal vehicles, especially in North America, is not an environmentally and economically sustainable practice.

Source: Fabiola Melchior

At the meeting, an interactive map was provided where the attendees could mark out the major pain points in the current transit system. They then went into groups of 5-6 to discuss smaller details. The main ideas that surfaced were about transit safety, frequency and availability of buses, punctuality of buses, and the places that are not well connected to the transit grid, which creates accessibility issues to everyday places like grocery stores or the university, perhaps. The issues discussed were not limited to transit, but also extended to the lack of bike and foot paths in Kelowna. 

Better transit means different things to different people. 

Some participants said that,

“The working hours of the bus 4 up Academy hill is extremely inconvenient. There is not a single bus between 9am to 3 pm and it gets extremely difficult to get back up from the University.”

“The city can work towards increasing the frequency of buses in general. At times, commuters have to wait up to 40 mins for the next bus to arrive.”

“I was biking through the city the other day and the bike lane came to an abrupt stop at a random spot. It is scary to ride the bike on the busy highways.”

The team who hosted the town hall is working towards compiling all the input they have collected, the map, the mind maps and brainstorms, and the reflection cards. They now hope to take all the information and come up with a strategy plan which hopefully includes talking to city councilors to identify the infrastructure that may be required to support these changes.

This volunteer led town hall meeting was successfully able to spark conversation and bring community leaders, community members, workers, and students together to build a community movement focused on the narrative of better transit.