B.C. Transit real estate deals raising questions

The bus company plans to transform two parcels of land it purchased in late 2010 in the Royal Oak area of Saanich into a new fleet operations and maintenance facility

B.C. Transit’s purchase of two Saanich properties last year is fuelling feelings of malcontent among municipal leaders in the Capital Region.

The bus company plans to transform two parcels of land it purchased in late 2010 in the Royal Oak area of Saanich into a new fleet operations and maintenance facility.

The properties, at 4210 and 4212 Commerce Circle, cost B.C. Transit $1.95 million and $5.2 million, respectively. The Crown corporation already owns another property in that block.

“So we have the two facilities (in Victoria and Langford) that allow us to maintain the fleet right now, but as we buy more buses, we’re going to need more space to maintain and park (them),” said Erinn Pinkerton, B.C. Transit’s director of corporate and strategic planning.

“Projected (fleet) growth is to accommodate 150 buses,” she said. “That comes down to how quick and how fast we grow, and how many (service) expansion hours we allocate to the Victoria system.”

The region’s fleet currently boasts 272 conventional buses and 53 HandyDART buses.

The Victoria and Langford depots have little room left for parking, and the company is feeling the pinch with its maintenance bays, parts and storage space, as well as parking for its HandyDart fleet, said Pinkerton.

To address that, a new facility at Commerce Circle will open in 2015. A year-long planning phase will begin in 2012. The structure is expected to take three years to construct.

The local portion of costs from the real estate purchases and the future facility won’t be billed to the Victoria transit service until it is opened, Pinkerton said, adding it’s possible more properties will be needed  to provide enough room for B.C. Transit’s expansion plans.

To answer those questions, B.C. Transit has begun a strategic planning process that will also identify whether the HandyDART service, which operates out of a third Commerce Circle property, should stay or be moved.

The purchases and facility plans should have been made sooner, said Frank Leonard, Saanich Mayor and commission member.

“How much is it going to cost our property taxpayers and our riders in 2015?” he asked. “Our riders and taxpayers are not being treated properly.”

Though Oak Bay Mayor Christopher Causton, as commission chair, knew about the purchases, he acknowledged “a breakdown in communication” between B.C. Transit and the transit authority.

Still, this should not detract from the value of B.C. Transit’s long-term planning when it comes to strategic land purchases.

“In my opinion, long term is a very good investment. There is value in land,” Causton said. “I don’t think the decision is wrong, I think communications have been poor.”

The reason the purchases were never presented formally is because they are “considered as a strategic acquisition, and therefore handled at the (B.C. Transit) board level,” said Pinkerton, noting the purchase was approved by B.C. Transit’s provincial board of directors, and did not have to go before the Victoria Regional Transit Commission.

 

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