First ride-hailer cleaning up in Kelowna

Lucky to Go
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, drivers with Lucky to Go – the first ride-hailing service to launch in Kelowna – must wear masks. The company also recommends customers wear masks.

The release of long pent-up demand has propelled Kelowna’s first ride-hailing service to great success in its first few days of operation, company officials say.

Forty drivers with Lucky To Go have been busy since the service started on Canada Day, chief executive officer Mandeep Rana said Friday, and more drivers are signing up every day.

“The response from the market has been fantastic, even better than we thought it was going to be,” Rana said.

“I think that’s because many people are familiar with how a service like this works all around the world, and they’re just so excited that it’s finally been allowed to come to Kelowna,” Rana said.

The company, which is licensed to operate all around B.C., had planned to begin service in Vancouver or Victoria with Kelowna launching in the fall.

But in the last few weeks, Rana said, company officials realized there was considerable unserved demand in Kelowna that could be immediately capitalized upon. The company plans to begin service in Penticton and Vernon by the end of July.

Two other companies have been approved to operate in the Okanagan, but Lucky to Go is the first to begin service.

A ride to Kelowna airport from a downtown Kelowna hotel with Lucky to Go will cost between $27 and $32, compared to a taxi fare of between $40 and $45, Rana said. A trip from downtown Kelowna to Big White should cost about $80 with Lucky to Go, he said, compared to $140 for a taxi.

Customers need to download the Lucky to Go ride-hailing app, which provides real-time information on the location and availability of drivers. Customers can choose to tip, Rana said, and they can also provide a satisfaction rating for the driver.

Among other benefits, ride-hailing services should help increase the availability of safe transportation home for locals and tourists leaving Kelowna bars this summer, Rana says. In the past, Kelowna city council has complained about the lack of taxis available during the so-called bar flush, raising the prospect of impaired people getting behind the wheel.

A look at how provinces plan to emerge from the COVID-19 shutdown

Provinces and territories have been releasing plans for easing restrictions that were put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Here is what some of the provinces have announced so far:

British Columbia

British Columbia announced on June 30 that it would allow visitors in to long-term care homes.

Government health restrictions were eased to permit one designated person to see a long-term care resident after being limited to virtual meetings or phone calls since March.

The province allowed hotels, motels, spas, resorts, hostels and RV parks to resume operating on June 24.

<who> Photo credit: File

Photo credit: File

Premier John Horgan said the province has been successful at flattening the curve on COVID-19, which means it can ease more health restrictions and gradually move into the third phase of its reopening plan.

He said the province is able to open more industries, institutions and recreation areas, but gatherings must remain at 50 people or less.

The government allowed a partial reopening of the BC economy starting May 19.

The reopenings are contingent on organizations and businesses having plans that follow provincial guidelines to control the spread of COVID-19.

Parents in BC were given the choice of allowing their children to return to class on a part-time basis starting June 1. The government said its goal is for the return of full-time classes in September, if it’s safe.

Conventions, large concerts, international tourism and professional sports with a live audience will not be allowed to resume until either a vaccine is widely available, community immunity has been reached, or effective treatment can be provided for the disease.

Hiking author’s favourite trail is all of them

Makin' Trails
Judie Steeves is the co-author of Okanagan Trips and Trails.

Hiking author’s favourite trail is all of them

The series on the best Okanagan trails takes a break this week with a request for feedback from readers, plus the latest version of a popular outdoors guide.

This spring, the series has featured the following trails up and down the valley: Grand Kelowna Triangle; Wood Lake Loop; Skaha Lake Loop; Okanagan Rail Trail; International Hike and Bike Trail (South Okanagan); Black Mountain Regional Park; Myra Canyon in Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park; Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park; Rose Valley Regional Park; and Spion Kop Mountain (Lake Country).

In recent weeks, the Sheriff surveyed outdoor recreation buddies and those he met on the trail asking about their favourite trail or those not yet featured. The feedback shows the Okanagan indeed has an incredible variety of trails fulfilling a wide variety of appetites for outdoor adventure. Email jp.squire@telus.net to have your say.

Trails that haven’t been included in the series so far, include Three Blind Mice mountain bike trails east of Penticton, KVR Trail from Penticton to Little Tunnel, Mount Boucherie in West Kelowna, Knox Mountain Park in Kelowna, Bear Creek Provincial Park canyon and Fintry Provincial Park falls on the Westside north of West Kelowna.

One way to discover new trails is to ask someone like Judie Steeves who has spent her whole life exploring, and has again teamed up with Murphy Shewchuk for the new version of their guide book, Okanagan Trips and Trails. It is available wherever books are sold, including local wineries in their gift shops.

The latest edition is updated, fully revised and expanded. Steeves is elated that this guide to British Columbia’s Okanagan-Similkameen regions has hundreds of colour photos to illustrate “the many stunning views from some of Canada’s most scenic and awe-inspiring wild places.”

Its 483 pages not only tell you where to hike, bike, boat, fish and camp, but includes the Southern Interior’s heritage, thanks to Shewchuk’s lifelong interest in B.C. history. It also has chapters on the Top Five Okanagan Birding Locations, Birding Walks in Kelowna and Public Gardens in Kelowna.

Trails at ski resorts include Apex and Mount Baldy in the South Okanagan, Big White and Telemark in the Central Okanagan, and Silver Star and Sovereign Lake in the North Okanagan.

This fine book is a must-have for any serious outdoor explorer, but it may take a while to read every page. The Sheriff likes to browse and when he finds a bucket-list outing, he highlights it with yellow marker on the Contents page at the front.

“Actually, it’s been really fun work! It’s taken me years and years of hiking to put it together, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” says Steeves.

“I admit that in the first half-hour on many of the trails, I’ve wondered briefly whether I really want to do this. But then, I look out over the view that’s starting to appear below me, or the flowers dotting the hillside beside me, and I get my breath back. Lots of the trails involve an uphill start because we live in this valley. But that also means as you climb, the panoramic views can take your breath away, just as the hike does,” she says with a laugh.

“I honestly can’t give you a single trail that’s my favourite because it depends on the time of year and my mood. For that reason, we’re incredibly lucky to have such a variety of trails to hike.

“In mid-summer, I simply love hiking in Cathedral Provincial Park, partly because the meadows of alpine wildflowers and the views out over those lakes are so awe-inspiring.

“But in spring, Knox Mountain Park is among the first spots wildflowers appear because it’s so close to the valley bottom.

“Rose Valley (Regional Park) is one of my favourite places to hike with its views and variety of habitat. But then, I am on the boards of two local land trusts, both of which contributed funds to establish that park. So it’s dear to my heart.

“I also love the High Rim and Okanagan Highlands trails, especially from Canyon Lake to Little White, and particularly in summer.

“Fintry (Provincial Park) is one of my favourite family parks in the Okanagan for its history and lakefront. But for hiking, Okanagan Mountain (Provincial Park) is far better.

“For a workout, the new Mount Boucherie trails are fantastic with the reward of a grand view from the top. But the views from Pincushion in Peachland and the new Black Mountain Regional Park are also amazing.

“Guess I’m a bit long-winded but I am passionate about this valley’s natural areas. We’re very lucky to have preserved some of them, and we must make sure a few more are kept natural too.”

BIG PLANS NEAR GYRO BEACH

The developer behind a large mixed-use development near Kelowna’s Gyro Beach is presenting new plans to the public in the form of a virtual open house.

A 320-unit condo development at 3340 Lakeshore Road is proposed to include a mix of commercial and retail space at the current location of the Willow Creek Family Campground.

With COVID-19 restrictions still in place, the Stober Group is presenting their new plans to the public online.

“We understand how important it is to get feedback from the community on the proposed development, so the virtual open house will allow us to reach more people and get feedback from a larger proportion of the community,” says Stober Group community liaison, Mary LaPointe.

The developer says the updated proposal takes into account input received in the past year. A 12-minute video has been produced to fully explain the project.

“We want your input. We need your input. This is your neighbourhood,” she said, adding they are hoping the community watches the video and provides additional feedback, which will be worked into the rezoning proposal that goes before city council.

MOVIE SHOOT IN OKANAGAN

Okanagan Film Commissioner, Jon Summerland tells Castanet the Okanagan film business has so far survived COVID-19.

“There are four Lifetime movies being shot in the Okanagan right now and through July and August,” says Summerland.

Summerland says an unnamed Hollywood film is also set to begin shooting in mid to late July and one of the reasons they can go ahead is because of the availability of Canadian crews.

“We’ve got skilled people here in B.C. and particularly in the Okanagan, that has allowed us to basically quarantine crews together to shoot these movies.”

Summerland says every production in the Okanagan now has a Health and Safety Officer on set daily to ensure protocols are adhered to.

“We have a dedicated space where everyone has their temperature checked daily and we make sure everything is cleaned and that everyone gets individual hand sanitizers.”

Until recently all of the shoots have been either on location at The Cove on the road or in an open space, “now that things have loosened up a bit we are starting to use different locations like the one on Doyle Ave the other day.”

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Kelowna council squashes cannabis grow-op proposal

Cannabis grow a no go

A Vancouver-based developer will not get his wish for a site-specific amendment to place a cannabis production operation within a multi-tenanted building.

The application for the zoning change on Kyle Road was strongly opposed by residents on the area, specifically those within the 55-plus Crystal Springs manufactured home park.

Residents opposed the application for numerous reasons specific to odour, noise, security, loss of property value and enjoyment of life and the overall process involved.

Council voted 5-1 to rescind first and second readings of the bylaw change and close the file. Only Coun. Jason Friesen voted in favour, while Mayor Gord Milson was not in attendance.

Councillors turned down the application mainly due to the site-specific bylaw which was changed in 2014 after the city received complaints around cannabis production facilities within multi-tenant buildings.

“There were problems,” said Coun. Rick deJong.

“The intent of this bylaw was to address those issues. The intent, as far as I’m concerned, stands.”

Coun. Jayson Zilkie indicated in Kelowna, operations such as the one before them are allowed, meaning it wouldn’t even come before council for consideration.

“It’s important for our residents to understand that we have fairly conservative bylaws compared to our neighbours,” he said.

“I think that’s great. I think that has served and protected them in this situation.”

In voting favour, Friesen argued when the original bylaw was created six yeas ago there were fewer restrictions in place, specifically around ventilation and contamination.

“The times have changed, so while the intent in 2014 seemed to be much more relevant about odour complaints and potential conflicts between neighbours, with the new regulations

Times have changed, technology has changed,” said Friesen.

He said the intent of the bylaw seemed more relevant around odour and potential conflicts than they would be now.

Three buildings, two currently under construction, were part of the application.

The applicant, Denciti Development Corporation, could still get approval for cannabis production within the first two buildings.

Planning manager Brent Magnan says they would be approved if cannabis production was to take place within each of the tenant units.

Okanagan braces for tourism wave

 The Peach

Workers at The Peach snack shop on the Penticton waterfront have added masks to their uniforms this year. But they’re ready to dish up ice cream to visitors.

Tourism Kelowna’s message to the rest of the province is: “We’re ready.”

As B.C. eases restrictions on travel after a near total shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, Okanagan communities are again inviting tourists to the Valley.

“We’re delighted the province has moved into Phase 3 reopening. I mean delighted. That’s the best news we could have heard,” said Lisanne Ballantyne, president and CEO of Tourism Kelowna.

“The province’s reliance on short-haul markets to help economic recovery completely aligns with Kelowna. The majority of people are driving in for vacations when they’re coming into the Kelowna area, so that is great news for us. We’re perfectly positioned going forward.”

The No. 1 question asked at the Kelowna Visitor Centre from prospective travellers is: “I’m thinking about coming, are you ready?”

Ballantyne said it’s crucial that businesses post on social media that they have protocols in place, they are operating safely, and they are open for business.

She also encouraged locals to post about the beautiful Okanagan and their favourite businesses on their social media feeds.

“Hearing from a tourism office that a destination is ready to welcome visitors is great,” she said. “It becomes very impactful when a restaurant owner or a restaurant fan posts on social media that: ‘My favourite restaurant is open. They are doing a great job on physical distancing, and, wow, Kelowna is ready.’”

Starting Monday, Bernard Avenue in downtown Kelowna will close to vehicles so businesses can expand their patios. It’s expected to stay closed until Sept. 8. Ballantyne said that kind of change will draw people to Kelowna

Being able to spread out into the street for easier shopping, dining, tasting or other experiences can make the difference between profit, or not.

The pandemic hit just as Kelowna was seeing record numbers of tourists in 2019, emerging as a four-season destination.

“We were excited going into 2020, and then COVID hit,” said Ballantyne.

Kelowna airport usually sees two million passengers a year, but is down by 95%.

Visitation in May was down 44% from this time last year, and May occupancy was at about 19%, when normally it’s about 75% at this time of year.

June numbers are expected to improve.

To survive, a number of businesses closed in March or delayed their openings.

“It’s really important to note that returning to travel unfortunately doesn’t necessarily mean returning to profitability. Some businesses are still facing some significant challenges,” she said.

“We’re definitely seeing movement in the right direction.”

Still, there are a lot of “ifs” right now – including if tourism businesses can make it through the summer and if there’s a bump in visitors this fall.

If the right circumstances align, many businesses should be able to start proper recovery, said Ballantyne.

She added that many owners would consider 50% of last year’s business as a success this year.

“If they could make it through the summer, they felt they would be all right,” she said.

Some businesses have completely pivoted to survive, offering curbside pickups or moving completely online. Ballantyne said physical distancing is the most challenging restriction affecting operators. It means businesses like wine tours and restaurants will cater to fewer customers at a time.

“People can’t congregate in a tasting room like they used to,” she said.

Outdoor adventures, meanwhile – like hiking, biking, and boating suppliers – are business as usual, with increased sanitization, of course.

Right now, tourism organizations are only advertising in parts of B.C. “Ideally, by September we’ll be advertising throughout Western Canada,” she said.

However, it appears U.S. visitors may not be coming for some time. Americans, who had been emerging pre-pandemic as a long-term growth market, are facing the world’s highest number of COVID-19 cases, meaning the border could remain closed indefinitely. Tourism Kelowna had been focusing on group travel, corporate conferences and large-scale meetings for U.S. visitors.

It’s a lucrative demographic as business travellers spend more money.

The 50-person cap on groups, though, is affecting that sector. Some advocacy groups are encouraging the province consider approving larger groups on a venue-by-venue basis — for example, an event at an amphitheatre could work better than an indoor space, a conference is easier to social distance at than a concert.

In the South Okanagan, communities have teamed up and formed the South Okanagan Tourism Alliance. It’s a collaboration to promote travel into the region as a whole.

It’s based on an understanding that places like Penticton, Oliver, Osoyoos and Summerland aren’t as big as Kelowna or Kamloops, and they don’t have the same resources.

“What we’re trying to do here is reestablish people to come back into the community and into the South Okanagan region,” said Thom Tischik, executive director of Travel Penticton,

“There’s some optimism of course that there’s going to be some more traffic and that’s certainly what we are all looking for.”

He reminded people not to travel if they’re sick; reserve ahead of time to book accommodation; and make safe choices. That means understanding your limits if you’re doing activities, like rock climbing, floating the channel or mountain biking.

“We want to try to make sure that everybody stays safe. And not only from a COVID situation but also for your own capacity. We’re all eager to get out to experience the province, and that’s awesome. We want to make sure that whatever you’re doing you’re doing it safely,” said Tischik.

Penticton has been helping businesses weather COVID-19 by asking locals to support local businesses, including restaurants, breweries and wineries. Many got on board.

“For Penticton, the initial start of COVID was at a quieter time for us,” he said.

“We have had virtually every event from COVID’s start right through to the end of August cancel for now or postpone to next year. That’s been a hit.”

B.C. Premier John Horgan advised British Columbians who want to travel within the province this summer to plan ahead and be respectful while visiting other communities, especially rural towns.

“As we carefully turn up the dial on our activity, we can now look to travel safely around the province. But as we hit the open roads this summer, we must remember we are not leaving COVID-19 behind, and we need to continue to do our part to bend the curve and protect the progress we’ve made,” said Horgan.

The provincial health officer has laid out travel guidelines for everyone travelling to and within B.C.:

— pre-trip planning and research on available resources at arriving destination;

— respecting any local travel advisories to isolated and remote communities;

— no travelling for anyone who is sick, and if symptoms develop while travelling, self isolate immediately and call 8-1-1 for guidance and testing;

— practising safe physical distancing of two metres at all times;

— spending time in small groups and open spaces; and

— practising good hygiene, including frequent hand washing and cleaning.

Cherry Plant Completed

A new state-of-the-art cherry packing facility across from Duck Lake will come to life this weekend.

Jealous Fruits announced Monday it has completed construction on the 140,000 square foot facility, which has been in planning and construction in various phases since the company acquired the site in 2015.

“The new plant is central to our various orchards, logistically accessible for shipping, and has easy customer and staff access,” Jealous Fruits said on Facebook.

The plant features 28 lanes of optical sorting equipment and can handle 18 tons of cherries per hour. There are three cold-storage rooms with 550 tons of capacity, administrative headquarters, retail shop and adjoining dorms to house 130 staff.

It is expected the plant will start packing fruit on about July 4.

TOURISM INDUSTRY THRILLED

Phase 3 of British Columbia’s reopening plan is a crucial step towards recovery for the tourism industry.

The tourism industry, among many others, felt the impact of COVID-19 immediately, but now that Canadian visitors are welcome and British Columbians are encouraged to explore the province, Tourism Kelowna is thrilled.

“The important and very valid health restrictions kicked in and so that meant that visitor flow absolutely stopped in our area,” says CEO of Tourism Kelowna Lisanne Ballantyne. “Phase 3 being announced was a watershed moment so it meant that it was now allowable for travel within the province.”

Ballantyne says the tour companies are ready to serve visitors and “it’s business as usual, but usual just looks a little bit different.”

“Everyone in the tourism business felt immediately, a sense of optimism because the phones started ringing, visitors started arriving, people started to book attractions, booking hotel rooms.”

And now that COVID-19 restrictions are easing and people are visiting, staff at Ogopogo Parasail are thrilled to welcome back customers safely.

“I think [COVID-19] made our opening a little bit slower, but once we were getting into the busier season, the restrictions were starting to lift anyways so it actually worked out quite well with the timing,” says Joel Devries with Ogopogo Parasail.

For parasailing, staff are operating two separate boats when it’s busy to ensure people are more distanced than they normally would be. Lifejackets are sanitized after each use and hand sanitizer is provided before and after the services.

Kelowna about to get Lucky

It appears Lucky To Go will be the first ride-share company to hit the streets of Kelowna.

The Victoria-based company was the third to receive a licence to operate in the Okanagan, behind Kabu and Safe Ride Sharing, but it will be the first to market when it begins operations on July 1.

“Kelowna has been super welcoming of this whole concept,” Lucky To Go founder Mandeep Rana said from Victoria on Monday. “It just blows my mind. We weren’t even planning on launching it anytime soon in Kelowna. We were anticipating September as a launch or something like that, post-COVID.

“But it turns out that with the amount of interest we have seen from Kelowna and how welcoming that city is of this ride-share concept, we dropped everything else, and we put Kelowna in first.”

Rana will be coming to Kelowna this Friday and Saturday for driver orientation sessions and to meet with city and airport officials. Anyone interested in driving for the company can check out its website.

Lucky To Go, which got the go-ahead from the BC Passenger Transportation Board on April 22, is unique in that it is partnering with the BC Taxi Association. Lucky To Go will provide the use of its app to BCTA members in return for lease payments.