The provincial government has changed its mind — in a good way, transit advocates might say.
It’s decided to give $12.7-million to BC transit systems over three years starting in 2017, backtracking from a three-year moratorium on such funding announced last year.
How much the West Kootenay will get is unknown, but over the past year the regional transit committee has received requests, from citizens and local politicians, for improvements or enhancements to the following routes: Nelson-Castlegar, Nelson-Slocan, North Shore, Blewett, Nakusp–Nelson health connection, Kaslo–Nelson health connection, Salmo–Nelson health connection, Kaslo–Trail health connection, and the reinstatement of the Perrier/Ymir Rd. service.
The transit committee consists of elected representatives from the regional districts of Kootenay Boundary and Central Kootenay (see member list below). BC Transit, a provincial crown agency responsible for coordinating the delivery of public transportation in BC outside of Vancouver, operates 83 transit systems across the province.
According to the RDCK’s Randy Matheson, the decision-making process is as follows:
1. The transit committee gives its wish-list to BC Transit. That’s already done, and the list is outlined above.
2. BC Transit assigns an estimated cost to each item, along with an estimated local tax increase required to fund it, and sends the list back to the committee. This has also already been done. Matheson said the estimated tax increases for the various requests range from 1.5 per cent to nine per cent, depending on many factors including whether it would be necessary to purchase a new bus.
3. The transit committee will prioritize the list by deciding what it wants to pay for and what the greatest transit needs are, and send it back to BC Transit by mid-June.
4. BC Transit decides which changes can be implemented by 2017.
The transit enhancements would potentially involve a tax increase for residents because all transit costs in BC are split 50-50 between BC Transit and local governments, who fund their half through fare revenues and taxation.
Matheson says it is impossible to predict how much the West Kootenay will get.
“BC Transit may come back and say you can’t have any of it, or they might say you can have it all,” he says. “It depends on how many transit hours they have available, and how many areas [across BC] want to expand.”
In 2013, BC transit and the local transit committee amalgamated nine transit systems in the West Kootenay into three, in which all fares and schedules from Kaslo to Trail and within each municipality were coordinated.
Asked this week for recent ridership stats for the West Kootenay and whether they have increased since the amalgamation of routes, BC Transit’s Daniel Pizarro said “We will be providing ridership stats to local governments in the near future at which time they will be made available publicly. I can tell you there have been increases in all three systems in the West Kootenay since the service integration.”
The members of the regional transit committee are Castlegar mayor Lawrence Chernoff (chair), Salmo mayor Stephen White, Silverton councillor Leah Main, Nelson councillor Valerie Warmington, Fruitvale mayor Patricia Cecchini, Montrose mayor Joe Danchuk, and RDKB Area B director Linda Worley.