The bus stops here

Iqaluit’s trial transit system a hit with passengers



Iqaluit’s newly paved, recently named streets have something new travelling on them: a flashy school bus that’s serving as the city’s new public transportation system.

The squat bus with green, yellow, blue and red stripes took to the road for the first time at 8:10 a.m. on Oct. 21.

The vehicle’s bright outer shell isn’t the only quirky thing about it. Inside the front door, a yellow and black checkered tin box hangs from the dashboard to collect the $2 fare.

On its first day of service, the multi-colored bus drew a lot of stares from pedestrians and other drivers. After their initial confusion, many offered a friendly wave to the passengers onboard.

At 5:10 p.m. the bus pulls up to the Four Corners, ready to cart people home after their workday. But as it turns onto Ring Road, the 13-seat bus is conspicuously empty, with just three passengers.

“Well, let’s get on our way,” bus driver Delmar Gordon says, turning around to smile at the few passengers on board.

Nearing NorthMart, a passenger realizes her stop is up next. She reaches for the pull cord, hesitates, then lets out a shy laugh when her pull produces a buzzing sound.

Continuing along the downtown route, Gordon talks about his first day on the road.

“It was kind of slow. But once people got the schedule and knew more about it, it picked right up,” he says, gripping the wheel with black drivers’ gloves.

The transit system is on a four-week test drive. If it’s a hit with Iqaluit residents and is used regularly, the city will consider introducing a full-time bus service.

Gordon makes note each time someone boards the bus. At the end of the day, he’ll tally the numbers. So far today, the most people on the bus at one time has been 17.

“I’ve got to bookkeep, drive the bus and count heads,” he says, looking up into the rear-view mirror and smiling.

After just one day of service, Gordon is convinced public transit is ideal for Iqaluit.

“It’s not as speedy as a cab, but it’s more economical,” he says.

“Pretty much a lot of people are coming from Apex into town. It’s really good for them.”

Gordon, originally from Saskatchewan, is a trained heavy-equipment operator who works for R.L. Hanson Construction Ltd. The company is operating the trial bus system for the city.

Gordon maneuvers the bus like a seasoned driver. When he makes his way to the Frobisher Inn, construction forces him to back up in a tight spot to turn around. As he drives the bus closer to the edge of the cliff, a passenger sitting in the very back glances behind and then grips the seat in front of her. Gordon says, “I’ve still got an inch. To a bus driver an inch is like a mile.”

Little training was required before Gordon hit the streets. He jokes that he shouldn’t have any trouble finding his way around Iqaluit. “There’s a map in the back should I have a brain lapse and get lost.”

Gordon is the transit system’s only bus driver, and spends his day driving the two routes around town.

Loop A takes passengers around the downtown core, Lower Iqaluit and Happy Valley areas. Loop B heads up the hill, making stops in Tundra Valley, Upper Tundra Valley, the Road to Nowhere and Apex.

On its second morning, the bus rumbles it way along Loop B, stopping near the Quick Stop on the Road to Apex to pick up passengers. The six customers on board are heading to work downtown.

It’s David Audlakiak’s second ride and he’s enjoying the new mode of transportation. Audlakiak usually walks down the hill every morning to his job at the Nunavut Research Institute. In the evenings, he treks 30 minutes back up the hill.

While it’s mild and sunny this morning, Audlakiak chose to ride the bus. “With this service, it’s hard to resist,” he says.

“It’s another mode of transportation for us. Not all of us here have cars and trucks.”

Sitting on the other side of the aisle, Ericka Chemko and her son Joshua bounce up and down as the bus turns down the Road to Nowhere.

Chemko lives and works in Apex but has to travel to Iqaluit each morning to drop off her son at daycare. She then heads back to Apex to work. She makes the same round trip at 5:00 each evening.

Chemko normally makes the daily routine by taxi, which runs her $20 a day. The $2 bus fare means Chemko can cut her transportation costs to $8 a day.

On top of the savings, Chemko likes the bus schedule. “The times work for me. I get into town and get back in time for work,” she says.

And despite the rocky ride, Chemko and the other five passengers smile during the trip into town.

“It’s bumpy whatever you drive,” Chemko jokes.

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