Nelson’s drivers aren’t the only residents being asked to find more change in their pockets in 2011. The city’s public transit users are also facing a fee hike of 25 cents per bus ride, and could eventually see cuts to the service in off-peak hours.
City council decided to hike rates at its final meeting on the draft 2011 budget before it goes out to the public this coming Tuesday. The change — which will also raise the cost of all monthly passes by $4 — is expected to bring in about $27,000 extra for the city.
“We’re in a heck of a bind because transit costs have almost doubled because of our new buses and because of increases in labour, gas, all of those,” says Councillor Deb Kozak.
Earlier this year council learned the city’s transit program is facing a deficit of more than $120,000, due to its new, larger buses which have so far been tricky to maintain and also use more fuel than the old fleet.
While the council isn’t tinkering with its services now, Kozak says they’ll be studying the system and pressuring BC Transit to help fix the problem. That could mean trading in the new buses for smaller models (which could take two or more years) or changing routes in the city.
Or, says mayor John Dooley, it could mean scrapping routes or hours of service that almost no one is using.
“It’s one thing to have ideological aspirations around getting people out of their cars and on to transit and reducing carbon emissions, but it makes absolutely no sense to me when you’re not meeting those goals,” he says.
“There’s lots of evenings where we only haul about six people. And that doesn’t really accomplish any of our goals around sustainability.”
Though Dooley suggested council go ahead and cut off-peak services during the budget meeting, the suggestion wasn’t met with much enthusiasm, with most at the table voting for a study on the current transit system instead.
But Dooley says he thinks cuts are still on the table — if not this year, then when the next council takes over after November’s municipal elections.
“Maybe it’ll be a different group of people at the table and they’ll decide it’s worth it to put heavy subsidies into transit,” he says. “But I’d be very surprised if any council wants to keep losing $100,000 a year on transit.”