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New transit model eyed for region

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, L, and his Victoria counterpart Dean Fortin stand at a bus stop on Esquimalt Road.  - Don Denton/News Staff
Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, L, and his Victoria counterpart Dean Fortin stand at a bus stop on Esquimalt Road.
— image credit: Don Denton/News Staff

The mayors of Saanich and Victoria are looking to make transportation a more regional issue by changing how B.C. Transit is governed.

Despite the two municipalities holding four of the seven seats on the existing transit commission, both say they're unhappy with the existing governance model.

"There's common ground that we have concerns that these (transit) discussions aren't happening on the CRD level, where regional issues should be discussed," Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said.

Rather, these regional transit issues – such as the rapid transit corridor proposed along Douglas Street and the Trans-Canada Highway – are heard by seven individuals representing only five of the 13 stakeholder municipalities.

"Transit is not totally representative of the region. There are many municipalities that don't have a voice at that table," said Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin.

"We don't have a regional transportation authority that really integrates all of the elements of regional transportation."

The hope, Leonard said, is making the transit commission a CRD-level committee so there's proper representation. That would create a more democratic discussion that will achieve more "accountability and openness" for Capital Region residents.

View Royal Mayor Graham Hill – who has no voice on the commission – supports the potential change.

"As it is right now, transit is very much a service provider largely focussed, and reasonably so, on the matters of ridership and cost per trip – all that goes into managing a successful corporation. However, they're not responsive to the community the way (politicians) are," Hill said.

A number of issues have sparked these conversations, Leonard said, pointing to a $28.50 property tax hike this year he says will go to paying for buses purchased for the Olympics, and a less-than-transparent rapid transit planning process.

"We're worried their public process is not up to local government standards," Leonard said.

He points to a transit model in the Regional District of Nanaimo that he believes would work better here, where the district contracts out B.C. Transit to provide the service.

"I'm proposing they have a more contractual arrangement with the CRD that could include a service plan and budget … It would clearly then make the Capital Regional District the customer, and it would put the Capital Regional District in charge," Leonard said.

Currently the commission members are presented with a service plan and tax rates compiled by the Crown corporation, and the onus is on them to review and question everything.

"We don't have resources (right now) to challenge what B.C. Transit's putting forward. The commission has no staff," Leonard said. "If (transit governance) was at the CRD, we'd have the advantage of CRD staff helping vet transit budgets, helping vet transit plans."

The change would be welcome news to Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, who, like Hill, isn't on the commission.

"You can see how the existing system has failed to meet expectations, in my view, with respect to governance in the growth areas. The whole mechanism itself is outdated as such that we cannot respond to our needs as we grow as a region," she said.

As it stands, under the province's B.C. Transit Act, Saanich and Victoria each hold two seats on the commission (mayor and one councillor each), while the fifth seat goes to either the mayor of Oak Bay or Esquimalt, the sixth goes to one Western Communities mayor and the seventh to one Peninsula mayor. All representatives are appointed by the provincial government.

At Wednesday's CRD board meeting, Leonard and Fortin will put forward a recommendation asking staff to look at possible changes that could be made.

"Transit is not totally representative of the region as it stands now," Fortin said. "As we start building our regional transportation plans, something's got to change. We feel this is the right way."

kslavin@saanichnews.com

 

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