Kelowna is welcoming the appointment by B.C.’s transportation minister of a of a three-member panel to review the operations and performance of B.C. Transit.
City director of regional services Ron Westlake said Kelowna wanted a review of how B.C. Transit works in light of local plans to grow the transit system here.
Specifically, it feels more decisions about the local system could be made here rather than at B.C. Transit headquarters in Victoria.
“We are not looking for a transit commission (like Vancouver or Victoria) but we feel there could be better co-ordination at the local level,” said Westlake.
Currently, the Kelowna regional system is the largest in B.C. outside of the greater Vancouver and Victoria areas and provides about five million rides per year. It is also the fast growing regional system, said Westlake.
On Thursday, Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom, announced a three-member review panel to look at how B.C. Transit operates in the more than 50 communities outside the Lower Mainland where B.C.Transit partners with municipalities to provide public transit.
Lekstrom said he called for the review after hearing concerns from B.C. mayors and other locally elected officials about the performance and operation of the Crown agency.
“B.C. Transit provides good transit service, although there is always room to improve,” said Lekstrom. “I have selected a knowledgeable and experienced panel that will examine the issues and provide recommendations. I am looking forward to receiving their report by the end of August. I am optimistic the independent B.C. Transit review will help make transit even better.”
B.C. Transit co-ordinates the delivery of public transit throughout B.C. outside of the metro Vancouver area and contributes 47 per cent of the total cost to those systems. The other 53 per cent is contributed by the municipalities, with part of the local contribution coming from revenues raised through fares as well as the sale of advertising.
Here, the local system costs about $18 million per year to operate and, and about 70 per cent of that amount is spent to run buses Kelowna. The remaining amount covers transit in West Kelowna and Lake Country.
The former Kelowna city council had expressed concerns about a lack of local decision-making when it came to determining bus routes here and had called for a review of B.C. Transit.
An example it gave was the lack of a bus route to the city’s H20 aquatic centre on Gordon Drive. That was rectified recently and a change to the bus route that serves the Mission area will result in a bus serving the aquatic centre starting March 25.
Westlake said growing the local transit system is a priority for the city, and in addition to new and expanded routes, growth will also be dependent on future land use decisions to make sure transit is provided where people live and work.
He said while the city wants to build on the current system, he noted that system has been in place since the mid-1970s and the city has grown substantially since then.
Westlake said given that the need for a review has been talked about for at least a year, the city is ready to talk to the review panel members, all of whom received a thumbs up from Westlake.
The panel members include retired B.C. government bureaucrat Chris Trumpy, management consultant Catherine Holt and John King, a transportation and public transit management professional who has worked with several Western Canadian communities in the past, including Victoria. He is currently senior manager of transit projects and studies with the City of Lethbridge in Alberta.
The trio will talk to local governments and B.C. Transit over the next four months and report back to Lekstrom by the end of August.
In addition to operations and performance, the trio will look at governance in the communities where B.C. Transit partners with local governments, communications and consultation between the Crown agency and the communities and funding relationships between B.C. Transit and the municipalities. Increases to provincial and local government funding for transit, however, will not be included in the review.
Part of the panel’s work will also be to determine if the Capital Regional District around Victoria should take over the functions of the existing Victoria Regional Transit Commission.