BC Transit cash infusion could benefit region

Representatives are reviewing the service’s revenue and expenditures as well as a proposed five-year financial plan for east end transit.

Nearing $1.2 million, public transit is the second largest annual requisition for taxpayers in the East End Services (EES).

Elected officials from Rossland, Warfield, Trail, Montrose, Fruitvale, Area A and Area B, comprise the seven participants, and the EES committee oversees regional services, like public transit, within the municipalities and areas.

Those representatives are currently reviewing the service’s revenue and expenditures as well as a proposed five-year financial plan for east end transit.

“And we await the results of the review being undertaken by BC Transit,” says Trail Mayor Mike Martin, the city’s EES director. “A process was started last fall with some well-defined terms of reference,” he added. “And we continue to explore every avenue to ensure the affordability and sustainability of the service.”

Broken down, the current property tax requisition from each community ranges from a half million to about $35,000, with those amounts growing to $600,000 and $42,000 by 2020, respectively.

Specifically, the proposed 2016 number for Trail stands at $498,000; Area A, $204,000; Rossland, $190,000; Area B, $116,000; Fruitvale $63,000; Warfield $52,000; and Montrose $35,000.

So news the province is kicking in $324 million in operating contributions to BC Transit over the next three years could be a positive for rural communities – though it’s too early to know how the funding will impact local service or if it will trickle down to taxpayer pocketbooks.

The new funding will be directed to BC Transit operating costs, meaning more service hours, new routes, improved HandyDART services and more frequent buses, according to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s Friday news release.

“We recognize the importance of affordable transit in B.C. communities,” Minister Todd Stone said in the release. “Which is why our government has increased funding, and also provided BC Transit and its partners with maximum flexibility to use this money as efficiently as possible over the next three years.”

He acknowledged the upcoming Crown review of BC Transit, and said local governments, BC Transit and the ministry are working to identify savings and third-party revenue sources.

Between now and 2017, the B.C. government will provide $106 million in operating funds; $108 million in 2017-18 and $110 million in 2018-19.

Additionally, the ministry has committed another $110 million for BC Transit capital investments over the next three years, adding to its annual $1 million investment toward projects on highways and roads such as bus shelters and wheelchair pads.

Locally, a potential capital project recently came to the forefront, that being the possibility of improving or relocating the main bus exchange on Cedar Avenue.

Lack of amenities, poor lighting, inadequate signage and scanty shelter are reasons local transit has long championed the idea of moving the main bus location elsewhere.

Improvements are limited because the aging Eaton’s building is privately owned, which impedes the opportunity to upgrade the property with signs and awnings.

Notably, talks about relocation are preliminary. Additionally, the West Kootenay Transit Committee has yet to seriously engage with Trail, who must be a key member of the discussion as the city will ultimately have to agree to any change.

Though resolution is far down the line, the proposal is on the city’s radar.

Trail Mayor Mike Martin forwarded a petition from residents opposed to the move, to the EES during the Jan. 12 regional meeting.

“It is very early on in the review process being undertaken by BC Transit to explore improvements to the effectiveness and efficiency of public transportation services in the West Kootenay area,” Martin told the Trail Times.

He ensured community input would be brought forward and considered during deliberations between the regional committee and BC Transit.

“We appreciated getting this feedback from a valued community group who rely heavily on the transit service,” Martin said. “From what I have heard there is strong support with regard to improving the transit exchange area and in order to do that, the transit exchange may need to be relocated.”

Any suggested modifications or relocation of the transit exchange will involve Trail city council,” he reiterated.

“In the meantime, we need to allow for BC Transit to undertake their work towards bringing alternatives to improving the efficiency of the transit service.”