In an effort to combat Nelson Transit’s operational deficit, city council has voted to cut service.
At its Monday night committee of the whole meeting, council discussed and debated a staff recommendation to slice costs for the remainder of this year and into the future.
“We’ve been talking about it since budget time,” says Mayor John Dooley. “It’s fairly evident that the very least we can do is look at how we can modify the system to meet the riders’ needs while at the same time figuring out ways to stop the costs which are rapidly escalating.”
The staff recommendations to stop bus service on Sunday and cut service to Perrier Road passed on Monday.
Starting August 1, busses will no longer run on Sunday, saving the city $13,000 this year and $31,000 annually. The Perrier Road decision will save up to $4,500 this year and up to $14,000 annually.
The city pays 53 per cent of the cost of Nelson Transit while BC Transit pays the other 47 per cent.
During budget discussions, it was revealed the city’s contribution to Nelson transit faced a $128,000 deficit, and that the city’s piece of the pie has risen from $220,000 in 2008 to almost $400,000 this year.
The increase was blamed on decreasing revenues, higher fuel and wage costs, and debt servicing on the new transit fleet.
The city responded by increasing parking meter and transit rates, which were expected to bring in an extra $100,000 and $28,000 respectively per year. Both of those moves experienced a shortfall.
Council also agreed to reduce summer service and school specific service in future years which could save an additional $52,000 annually.
Though most councillors expressed reluctance to make the difficult decisions on transit, only councillor Robin Cherbo voted against the moves.
“Here we are trying to encourage people to ride the bus in this day and age… and here we are cutting service,” Cherbo told his fellow councillors, adding he would have liked to see all changes go before the public first.
“Consultation will only result in people who want to use it a lot storming here or writing letters,” councillor Margaret Stacey said. “The buck stops here.”
Council also formally accepted the Nelson service review document completed earlier this month that looks into a longer range plan for the local service. That plan incorporates a larger area and will bring the Regional District of Central Kootenay into the discussion.
Councillor Donna Macdonald said in the long term the system needs a “radical adjustment,” but in the short term the city had to deal with the budget crunch.
“I am certainly not going to do anything to sabotage our system,” Macdonald said. “It’s only going to become more important in the future.”
Dooley was pleased the city has started to lay the groundwork of a more stable system.
“I would suggest it’s more of a realignment on how we deliver the service and how people look at the service,” Dooley said after the meeting. “It won’t be as close to everybody’s front door as it currently is, but it won’t be any more than a block or two of additional walk.”
One other item of discussion that sparked lively debate was asking BC Transit to do a feasibility study on creating a downtown transit exchange on Victoria Street between Stanley and Ward. That issue will be brought forward to the public in the next few months.