Oak Bay will not run a four-month free bus pass trial for youths in 2021.
Providing free bus passes to youth was the only recommendation of five that Oak Bay’s Community Climate Action Working Group made to council that was not approved.
Coun. Andrew Appleton chaired the Community Climate Action Working Group that was assembled hastily in 2019 in response to Oak Bay’s declaration that the municipality is in a climate emergency. The working group – which is made up of the same members from the Advisory Planning Commission – took public feedback and was tasked with boiling it down to five distinct recommendations ahead of the 2020 budget.
However, Appleton could not get a seconder for his motion on Monday night to consider the working group’s fifth recommendation, which seeks to double transit ridership in the next five years. It was centred on a four-month free youth bus pass trial.
Council stated several reasons for declining on the motion, one of them that the province is looking at free transit for youth under 12.
“It just didn’t seem timely to encourage youth transit use in the middle of a pandemic. I hope we can revisit ways to incentivize mode shift in the new year,” said Coun. Tara Ney who also said there wasn’t enough evidence that youth would use them.
Coun. Eric Zhelka suggested he could consider supporting it, if it was delayed a year. Coun. Hazel Braithwaite said it was too cost prohibitive at this time, said when the full municipal revenue impacts of the pandemic are yet to be determined
Mayor Kevin Murdoch noted the base cost of providing a 100 per cent subsidy of transit for youth in Oak Bay would be about $250,000, or more than a one per cent tax increase.
“…With all of the other things we have to focus on it would be difficult to divert that amount of money to this program (ie., and take it away from something like infrastructure),” Braithwaite said.
Three recommendations have already been adopted and are underway. No. 1 is that the engineering department produce a feasibility study to develop and complete an active transportation network by the end of 2025. That report is expected sometime in the new year. No. 2 is to make the Coolkit program available to residents, which is a detailed guide on planting trees and shrubs. No. 3 is to create an annual funding program of grants to community groups that undertake direct climate action activities within Oak Bay. It would also provide rebates for actions that reduce GHG emissions including, for example, heating systems, electric garden equipment, and e-bikes.
Recommendation No. 4, which did get approval on Monday night, is to “create two separate programs and associated policies to accelerate GHG and energy reductions for the retrofit and adaptation of existing buildings, and for new building construction.”
It’s a win for Oak Bay to have four motions in place, Appleton said.
But it’s also left Appleton disappointed that option No. 5, doubling transit usage in the next five years, fell to the floor without a seconder so that there wasn’t even a discussion on the bus pass trial, let alone a vote.
“In a time of COVID, am I disappointed that we haven’t made more substantive progress? Yes, I’m disappointed we aren’t further ahead, but there’s a lot of significant factors for that. COVID-19 being the major factor,” Appleton said. “It has really delayed what staff can do. They’ve worked their little butts off, handling the emergency centre, and what they have had to since COVID-19 restrictions.”
Appleton and Ney both agree that the coming staff report for active transportation will be exciting and also likely to be controversial, as it will broach the topic of prioritizing road usage away from cars.
It is expected in the first quarter of next year and should outline what will be required in terms of resources, namely costs and timelines.
“The important thing is we have got the budget line item for active transportation already, and now we are coming back with suggestions on what potential short-term actions will be, where we can begin,” Appleton said.
Ney was also active recently in getting her motion passed on Nov. 9 that staff prepare a report exploring the municipal ban of leaf blowers that are powered specifically by two-stroke, gas-powered engines. Another report will explore how the municipality can have its own crews move away from gas-powered landscape equipment by 2024.