CVRD removing some Duncan-area bus shelters over safety concerns

CVRD removing some Duncan-area bus shelters over safety concerns
The bus shelter on James Street in front of Cowichan Secondary School is shown in March 2024.

The Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD) board of directors has decided to remove some bus shelters in the Duncan area due to safety concerns and “misuse” by homeless people in the area.

At a committee of the whole meeting on March 27, the board heard that open drug and alcohol use were rising at several bus stops, as was loitering, particularly by unhoused people who were using the transit shelters as a way to keep out of the elements.

In particular, the issues were affecting the transit shelters outside Village Green Mall (VGM) in Duncan, and on James Street in front of Cowichan Secondary School.

“The misuse of these shelters has generated concerns regarding safety, cleanliness, and increased maintenance,” reads the staff report that was submitted to the committee of the whole.

“In the case of VGM, repeated calls for service to VGM security and the RCMP have occurred.”

Regional district staff wrote that the misuse of these two bus shelters in particular is causing some transit users to avoid these stops, and is costing the regional district more for extra cleaning, disinfection and inspections.

At the March 27 meeting, staff also said they spoke with mall management, who said they had removed their outdoor benches and planters because they were being used for sleeping and other unintended purposes.

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The bus shelter outside Village Green Mall in Duncan is shown in December 2023. (CVRD)

Director Michelle Staples called the situation “heartbreaking,” both for the transit users who feel unsafe at the shelters, and the unhoused people looking for a place to stay.

“This is something no one wants to do,” she said, adding that the removal of the bus shelters will generally impact people with lower means who already face long wait times for buses in the relatively small community.

However, she said she’s received many calls about the unsanitary and unsafe appearance of the bus shelters from community members as well.

“I, very reluctantly, support this,” she said.

SEE ALSO: Growing number of seniors, particularly women, among Victoria’s homeless

Director Aaron Stone added that while housing is a responsibility for higher levels of government, the CVRD can take steps to mitigate the safety concerns at the bus stops now.

“The reality is these problems are not going to be solved in three moths, six months, and our bus stops now are not accessible to people who need to use the buses, because they’re intimidated, afraid, unsafe, whatever the reason is, so it does require mitigative action, whether it’s [a] reaction or not,” he said.

The CVRD board of directors ultimately voted in favour of removing the bus shelters at Village Green Mall and on James Street near Cowichan Secondary School at the meeting last week.

The bus stops and poles remain, but the shelters and benches will be removed.

In Nanaimo, where the city and other levels of government are constructing a new $15 million bus exchange, a business association remains worried.

“They can not put a new Nanaimo downtown bus exchange here. You’re going to have the exact same problems with five open bus shelters and a public washroom,” said Kevan Shaw, past-president of the Victoria Crescent Association.

The Nanaimo bus exchange is scheduled to be completed in six months time.

With files from CHEK’s Kendall Hanson

Adam ChanAdam Chan

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