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Bus riders find bearings

York unveils new Viva service; ‘growing pains’ expected


Nader Taji got off his southbound Viva bus with a bewildered look on his face.

“I’m so confused,” he said.

Taji was at the Richmond Hill Terminal, York Region’s major bus terminal, where local transit buses and Viva’s new near-express service connect.

When he got on at Bernard Ave. and Yonge St. in Richmond Hill yesterday, he couldn’t figure out how to “validate” his ticket. Now, the student couldn’t find the bus connection that would take him to Warden Ave. and Highway 7.

“I’m lost,” Taji said. “The mixture of the routes, and how to take the next bus. The buses are great, but the hassle of stamping the tickets. I don’t think it’s convenient.”

After launching on Sunday, Viva is going to take some getting used to.

But growing pains are to be expected, said Mary-Frances Turner, vice-president of the York Region Rapid Transit Corp.

“It’s like anything that’s brand new,” Turner said. “You have to learn how to use the system.”

Viva is operating on two routes, Yonge St. between Bernard � north of Elgin Mills Rd. in Richmond Hill � and the Finch subway station, and along Highway 7, starting at York University and ending at Town Centre Blvd. in Markham. More routes are to begin operating in the next few months.

Most of the comments from passengers on the bright blue buses yesterday were positive.

“It’s definitely a little more comfortable, a little bit faster,” said Norm Wolter, who works in tech support at Hewlett-Packard.

It worked well enough that Sanan Raza, who works downtown at TD’s discount brokerage, said she will give up her car.

“It’s very smooth, to say the least. I’m quite happy,” Raza said. “There’s room to sit down and read my paper. I drive a lot and I want to stay away from that.”

Raul Medrano, a computer programmer for a market research company, said he could put off buying a car if Viva works well.

He especially liked the displays at the stops that told commuters how long they have to wait for a bus.

“I think it’s more predictable, it tells you exactly when it’s coming,” he said. “The other way was a guessing game.”

But not everyone was ecstatic. Tony Petruccelli figured he’d be 20 minutes late for work because of Viva.

He said a number of Viva buses passed him bearing “not in service” signs.

“They should call it slow transit, not rapid transit,” said Petruccelli, an insurance manager. “They spent a lot of money on these buses. Our taxes are probably going to go up and what’s the purpose if it’s delaying me from getting to work.”

Turner said the first few days went as well as could be hoped.

“People are getting on the system, using the stations,” she said.

“There are some growing pains with the equipment and making sure we have everything working and functioning. But we’re going.”

Viva cost $180 million � $80 million from the region, $50 million each from Ottawa and Queen’s Park � from concept a little more than three years ago to this week’s start-up.

The goal is to get 30 per cent of York Region commuters to use public transit instead of their vehicles. Currently, about 8 per cent of York Region commuters use public transit.