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Transit cuts still on table

The City of Nelson is going to bat against BC Transit, and it’s not alone in the fight.
When Nelson city council accepted new buses from BC Transit in 2010 they didn’t realize they would cost an extra $120

The City of Nelson is going to bat against BC Transit, and it’s not alone in the fight.

After facing down a $120,000 transit deficit in its latest budget, city council is giving the provincial crown corporation until the end of May to come up with a plan to cut costs.

BC Transit representatives are expected in the city in April, and mayor John Dooley says they’re already studying service alternatives from afar.

Nelson is also one of 11 communities and regional districts to sign a letter calling on the crown corporation to change its funding system and improve the way it communicates with local governments. Kelowna, Kamloops, Penticton and Prince George have also signed on.

“These increased costs have hit just about every municipality outside the Lower Mainland, and regional districts,” Dooley says. “I’ve talked to four mayors, just in the last two weeks, who are facing similar or worse problems.”

The $120,000 shortfall was blamed on a new and larger bus fleet introduced in the city by BC Transit last summer. The buses require twice the amount of fuel and have had higher maintenance costs, but Dooley says the real hit came when the transit authority passed part of the debt servicing for the fleet onto the city unexpectedly.

“We would have been quite happy to absorb some additional cost — the additional price of fuel and so forth,” he says. “But when we were asked to absorb additional amounts of the debt servicing, that’s just over and above.”

If the system is left unchecked, Dooley expects next year’s deficit will be higher as the buses were only in operation for a little over half of 2010.

To bring costs down, Dooley thinks it’s likely bus service in the city will be cut outside of peak hours, when ridership is often as low as six people spread over four buses. That could mean having one small bus cover the entire city, or cutting service in the evenings altogether.

But for those who would like to see service levels maintained, Dooley has one other option.

“If somebody wants to step up to the plate at BC Transit and absorb these additional costs, then we can retain the system as is,” he says.

“I’m personally not interested in any department within the municipality — and I don’t really care what department it is — to have that type of inefficiency... It’s just not right for us to ask fire, police, public works, the library, recreation, all of those services to reduce, and let transit just roam along losing money year over year.”

At press time, BC Transit had not responded to requests for comment.

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