Saanich has signalled its support for a regional transit body, whose critics including Mayor Richard Atwell say does not go far enough.
Council Monday voted 7-2 to signal its support for a regional transportation bylaw, which supporters say would give the Capital Regional District (CRD) influence with the provincial and federal government that it currenty lacks.
“If there is one service that cries out for a regional solution, it’s transportation,” said Coun. Susan Brice, who also chairs the Victoria Regional Transit Commission. “All of our studies show, all of us throughout this region, travel through multiple jurisdictions every single day, and there is no one who would say that transportation in this area had been solved.”
The bylaw, if approved, would make the CRD the regional lobby and receiving agency for funding from other spheres of government for potential projects like the creation of a regional commuter rail service from Langford to Victoria West along the E&N Rail corridor, a project that enjoys some support in Saanich. The region currently misses such a coordinating body, said Brice.
“With this foundation, it puts the CRD in a very, very, very good position,” she said. “We would have the platform that could deal with it regionally.”
The bylaw would also give the CRD authority to conduct transportation studies, and collect relevant data.
Coun. Judy Brownoff acknowledged the CRD can already perform many of activities found in the bylaw. “But they are spread across other services,” she said. “With this bylaw, it will be all in one area, and it will be funded appropriately.”
The bylaw calls for funding of $1.5 million with the funding cap set at $2.5 million subject subject to approval. An earlier version of the bylaw could have requisited funds of up to $10 million.
Coun. Dean Murdock said this bylaw gives the region a chance to improve its performance on regional transport issues.
Everybody has different ideas about how to handle regional transit, he said. “But I think we all start from the same place, that is we are not doing it well at the moment. This in my view is the best chance at speaking with a common voice and setting regional priorities, in speaking for the 380,000 residents of this region, who feel like their councils, their elected officials are may be not listening, when they are expressing their frustrations about trying to get around this region.”
Coun. Karen Harper agreed with this premise, but questioned whether this bylaw would achieve what it attempts to achieve.
“I don’t think it goes far enough, quite frankly,” she said. “I appreciate that we need to move in baby steps, but it seems to me these are things that we are already doing and can do at the CRD.” What the region genuinely needs is a regional transit authority, which cannot only develop plans, but also implement them on its own, she said.
Atwell agreed. Why is the CRD setting up another body to study regional transportation issues, when it can already draw on a list of them, he asked. “What is needed here is actually a proper authority that ultimately gains control of important roadways, connector roadways, portions of highways and things like that.”
Atwell also added a number of Westhore communities including Langford and Colwood have raised concerns about the substance of the new bylaw as well as the process, which could see the CRD use the alternative approval process, a form of counter petition, to approve the bylaw. CRD has not yet announced which process it will use.
Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton said this possibility constitutes the “ultimate disrespect of democratically, locally elected [councils] taked with governing their communities” in voicing Colwood’s opposition to the proposed bylaw.
“We strongly recommend, in the interest of providing good service to the Region’s municipalities, that the CRD respect the authority of municipal [councils],” she said in a letter.