Restored service hours benefit of transit budget health in Greater Victoria

Transit commission members use extra revenue found from various sources

A bus rider climbs aboard the No. 14 bus in downtown Victoria. The route

Taxpayers in the Capital Region won’t be required to cough up extra money to cover B.C. Transit’s 2012 budget.

The Victoria Regional Transit Commission approved a zero-per-cent tax increase Thursday thanks to higher transit revenues, gas-tax funding and measures to reduce fare evasion.

Last year, the commission approved a $28 property tax increase. This year homeowners will, on average, again pay $120 in transit taxes.

Businesses will pay an average of $1,715, about $53 less than 2011, due to a recalculation of the commercial portion of the tax.

“I am of the view that the tax increases the past two years have been excessive,” said commission member and Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard. “So at least this year there can be some levelling of it.”

A $1.7-million surplus generated over the past year has helped bolster the bus company’s bank account for the regional service.

“Expenditures were right on budget,” said Michael Kohl, B.C. Transit’s chief financial officer. “So the increase in the transit fund is all directly attributed to the increase in passenger revenues and fuel tax.”

Over the past year B.C. Transit saw a $300,000 increase in gas tax revenue, due to an upswing in consumer fuel consumption, Kohl said.

And efforts to curb transfer fraud have helped the company recoup $700,000 in the past year, accounting for nearly half of the revenue increase.

Last June, B.C. Transit introduced new date-stamped paper transfers, which can only be used within a 60-minute window on a one-way bus trip, rather than a 90-minute window for multiple trips throughout the bus system.

It helped stop people from reusing transfers and not paying for rides, Kohl said.

Other revenue increases came from fare increases for students’ U-Passes and monthly pass holders.

More good news delivered with the transit budget is the restoration April 1 of 7,000 service hours, cut last year to save money and address declining ridership in 2011-12.

Users of the handyDART system will benefit from 2,000 of those hours. Those wanting to use the system have had to sign up two weeks in advance in the past two months.

The No. 4, 14, 16, 21 and 26 routes, used by many University of Victoria and Camosun College students, will see a boost of 5,000 hours. This will help the problem of full buses passing by students waiting at bus stops for rides, said B.C. Transit spokesperson Meribeth Burton.

“The next step … is to lobby B.C. Transit on where to put those hours so that they will best benefit students,” said Madeline Keller-MacLeod, external executive with the Camosun College Student Society.

The restoration of service hours was a budget highlight for new commission member, Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto.

“(We’re in) the unique position where the product that we’re selling is dependent entirely on its accessibility and ease with which people can use it,” she said. “I think this is absolutely a step in the right direction.”

Did you know?

• On March 9, B.C. Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom announced the appointment of four new members to the Victoria Regional Transit Commission.

Saanich Coun. Susan Brice is the commission chair, while newcomers include Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, Sidney Mayor Larry Cross, Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton and Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto.

Returning commission members include Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin and Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard.

The Victoria Regional Transit Commission determines fares, routes and service levels and has final say over the annual operating budget, spending and transit tax rates in the Capital Region.

emccracken@vicnews.com

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