The first cut is often the deepest. That’s not the case in this particular instance, but it still smarts.
Facing a $178,000 or 15 per cent budget increase for transit in seven East End service areas, regional directors are looking at ways to reduce that number down to three per cent.
The chopping began last week.
During the Jan. 17 East End Services Committee meeting, which includes Rossland, Warfield, Montrose, Fruitvale, Areas A and B as well as Trail, the panel voted to remove the city’s $4,000 allowance for winter maintenance at the main exchange stops in downtown Trail.
Trail Mayor Mike Martin discussed the transit budget at Monday night council, and confirmed that directors removed the $4,000 citing it as “an unfair practice.”
On the grand scale, $4,000 barely scrapes the surface of budget reduction. And for the past 20-plus years, the regional district has reimbursed the money to Trail, the Cedar Avenue exchanges are where passengers transfer bus routes to outlying areas.
And for many years, that money has been gainfully directed not toward city crews, but to the worker bees from Career Development Services (CDS) in downtown Trail. CDS workers are vital in keeping the city spiffy – Trail has an inclusive philosophy, so employing workers from CDS is a win-win for all. They are community members with physical and development challenges who are paid to keep the streets, road sides and parks clean as well as the bus exchanges free of snow.
“We have a snow removal contract with the city which includes keeping the downtown main bus stop clear of snow, and in the summer it is one of the areas we clean up as necessary,” said Sheila Adcock, CDS’ program coordinator. “We employ individuals on the crew from the Greater Trail communities from Rossland through to Fruitvale.”
With $4,000 or two per cent now removed, directors have tasked administration to review and limit the requisition another 10 per cent or $35,000 in total.
At present, the overall proposed budget requisition is $1.34 million with Trail’s contribution nearing $575,000, Martin clarified.
Narrowing that number down to the Trail taxpayer, the average homeowner will contribute approximately $62 towards transit in 2017.
In the bigger picture, local transit participants have long pushed for BC Transit to provide smaller buses in the region – on any given day many of the buses appear to be sparsely used.
Coun. Sandy Santori questioned the mayor about the increased cost to East End participants, and asked if the committee was revisiting the savings potential with smaller buses.
“I fully support the bus service,” Santori said. “But nine out of 10 buses are running at less than 10 per cent capacity, time and time again. We have to start asking ourselves that question.”
Martin replied the committee has stated concerns with the escalating cost of public transit, and continues to advocate for smaller transit vehicles.
“The arguments we get back are related to service and parts … for the fleet and associated activities with existing buses,” he said. “But you are absolutely right, it makes no sense to be running these large buses with very low usage.”
Earlier this month, BC Transit stated that 104 new buses would be added to its provincial fleet.
Following the Jan. 11 news release, the Trail Times contacted BC Transit to inquire if any new buses, possibly smaller buses, were destined for the West Kootenay.
“We place orders for buses knowing there are parts of our fleet that need replacing, however we do not finalize the plans for placement of the buses until they are closer to delivery as the plans could change,” responded Communication Manager, Jonathon Dyck. “Factors include other system realignments which could change the need for the bus in one community and require it to be placed in another.”
In an October session of Trail council, Martin revealed upcoming changes in local transit such as the discontinuation of Route 47 to Tadanac and certain runs on Route 44 to Sunningdale.