Pedestrian-oriented closures of Government Street will not end to allow cruise ship shuttle buses to come through starting in April, despite concerns from business owners.
Couns. Stephen Andrew and Geoff Young brought a motion requesting the change to committee of the whole on Thursday (Feb. 10), after the city announced the downtown bus stop for cruise passengers will be moving two blocks north, from Government and Fort streets to Government and Yates streets.
The decision ensures that this section of Government Street will remain pedestrian priority, as laid out in council’s strategic plan. Andrew and Young asked council to open the street to buses during cruise season, in response to concerns voiced by shop owners that they may lose out on vital business.
Operators told Black Press Media the survival of their businesses has depended heavily on revenue from cruise ship passengers, and that they’ve been hanging on by a thread for two years waiting for the ships to resume stopping in Victoria. Several said they’re concerned people who take cruises are often older or may have health challenges that may prevent them from walking a couple extra blocks.
Speaking Thursday, several councillors expressed concern over the new bus route, which will no longer go past the legislature, the Inner Harbour and the Empress Hotel. Instead, passengers will be transported along Dallas Road and take Douglas and Blanshard streets into downtown, and ride past the harbour and legislature on the way out.
Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe said cruises give passengers a taste of a new city and what they see will determine whether they come back.
Staff agreed a stop somewhere along the Inner Harbour was preferable, but consultations with bus operators determined it wasn’t logistically possible. Opening lower Government only to buses would be difficult to regulate, they added, and could pose safety risks to pedestrians.
Reiterating her remarks from earlier in the week, Mayor Lisa Helps emphasized the new stop is only 140 metres away from the old one.
“It takes someone longer to walk from their room on a cruise ship to the buffet than it would take them to walk from Yates Street to Fort Street,” she said. When tourists exit the bus and see a vibrant pedestrian corridor they will be drawn to walk that way, she added.
Staff are also working on strategies to ensure tourists still make their way down to the Inner Harbour, including having volunteer ambassadors direct them and answer questions, implementing new signage and creating a visitor map.
In a 6-3 vote, with Andrew, Young and Thornton-Joe in favour, council voted down the motion.
The first cruise ship is set to arrive in Victoria April 6.
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