SERVICE WITH A SMILE  Ben Kuhle drives the BC Transit bus for the Columbia Valley, earning rave reviews from many of the daily riders whove come to rely on the service. Photo by Steve Hubrecht

SERVICE WITH A SMILE Ben Kuhle drives the BC Transit bus for the Columbia Valley, earning rave reviews from many of the daily riders whove come to rely on the service. Photo by Steve Hubrecht

By Dan Walton

Pioneer Staff

Throughout the vast Columbia Valley, there is an extensive and affordable public transit system, and its operated by drivers who are passionate about what they do.

I pride myself in precision, said Olympus Stage Lines Ltd. manager Ben Kuhle, who has been keeping the buses rolling since the BC Transit program was introduced to the valley in 2008.

Thats what I do the entire day, is work to make sure that Im at the bus stops at the right times, so people can depend on the service and know thats when the bus is going to be there.

He said the service has come a long way since its inception, having grown from an average daily ridership of two or three to about 45 today. Fares have been reasonably set, ranging from $2 to $2.50, serving riders as far south as Canal Flats, where the service begins at 7:30 a.m. from Monday to Friday, stopping at locations in Fairmont Hot Springs and Windermere before reaching Invermere.

Once there, a separate route takes riders up to Radium Hot Springs and Edgewater, before returning to Invermere.

Between 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. from Monday to Friday, the bus offers on-request service between Radium and Invermere, as long as a trip is booked 24 hours in advance, which can be done by calling 1-877-343-2461.

Its a long day, but I enjoy driving so its not that big of an issue, Mr. Kuhle said.

For drivers whose commute can be weather-dependent, Olympus heavy duty buses have few issues dealing with winter weather, especially with the experienced drivers behind the wheel.

Winter doesnt pose a challenge, said Mr. Kuhle.

But no matter what time of year, riding the bus is another enjoyable way to get around the East Kootenays, he added. You see many of the same people every day, it pretty soon becomes a social thing.

Before full-day kindergarten was introduced in B.C., Olympus would transport the Eileen Madsen Primary school children to accommodate the half-day schedule, which was one of Mr. Kuhles favourite tasks.

I always had huge fun with that because four and five-year-olds are hilarious little people, he said, adding that he rode a school bus when he was young and always enjoyed the rides.

Be sure to say hello to Mr. Kuhle if you find yourself on one of the two BC Transit routes in the valley.

Schedules for the Columbia Valley can be viewed online at goo.gl/92D1nh , and Columbia Valley

Transit System information is available by calling

1-877-343-2461 .