Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) directors will explore the option of a fuel tax to help pay for expanded bus service under the 25-year transit future plan.
The plan would drive up the $2.85-million transit budget by 45 per cent during the first three years and by 145 per cent by 2038, when the number of buses would triple from 11 to 33.
The SCRD’s infrastructure services committee recommended approval of the plan itself last week, but directors flagged the hefty price tag as a potential roadblock.
“My concern is the ability to carry out this plan in a financially responsible way,” Gibsons director Gerry Tretick said at the Jan. 9 meeting.
Directors agreed to discuss the option of a fuel tax at the next corporate and administrative services committee meeting, with board chair Garry Nohr voting against the motion, calling it “a waste of energy.”
Former transit manager Brian Sagman — now retired but acting as a consultant for the SCRD on the final draft of the plan — said current legislation permits a fuel tax only in Vancouver and Victoria. Attempts through the Union of B.C. Municipalities to change the legislation “haven’t gone anywhere,” Sagman said.
“You do have the ability to apply to the province on your own. A lot of communities have,” BC Transit senior regional manager Myrna Moore told the committee, but added that none had been successful yet.
Other funding options identified in the plan include building a capital reserve with annual allocations from property taxes and introducing a “community pass” that would be sent to each household as part of their property tax bill.
Appearing before the committee, BC Transit senior planner Rebecca Newlove said the plan’s aim is to increase annual rides from 500,000 to 1.8 million, raising transit’s share of all trips on the Coast from two per cent to 5.4 per cent.
“Your targets have not changed since the draft, and these are ambitious targets compared to other communities in B.C.,” Newlove said.
The final plan includes two “quick wins” — increased coverage to West Sechelt and limited service to the Botanical Garden on Mason Road.
The first three years would increase the frequency of Route 90 between Sechelt and Langdale to 30 minutes at peak times, while smaller buses would serve West Howe Sound, Gibsons Landing, Elphinstone and Roberts Creek as feeder routes.
Incorporating concerns from local government bodies into the final plan, Route 90 will access North Road for some trips and Marine Drive for others, “to make sure there’s increased frequency on Marine Drive,” Newlove said.
Connections for Roberts Creek and within Sechelt were also improved under the final plan, she said.
The first three years would also introduce targeted service to Pender Harbour and develop exchanges as transfer points in Upper Gibsons and Wilson Creek, as well as a park and ride facility in Sechelt.
The short-term changes would add eight new buses to the transit fleet.
“The short term requires an extra heavy-duty vehicle, six medium-duty vehicles and a light-duty vehicle, and about 9,900 hours,” Newlove said. “It’s about a 45 per cent increase in the budget, so that’s over the next one to three years.”
Last fall, the SCRD signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with BC Transit for the first phase of the plan, expected to cost just over $1.2 million. At the time, Sagman estimated the total cost to the SCRD at $738,626, with $192,000 to be recovered from revenues and $546,500 from taxation. BC Transit would cover about $563,000.
The SCRD’s costs exceed the amount contained in the MOU because they include items that are not cost-shared with BC Transit, including administration and bus stop and shelter installations and maintenance, SCRD transit manager Rob Williams said after the meeting.
For the SCRD, the MOU was “a commitment to move forward with that budget for those funds,” Newlove confirmed in a follow-up interview.
The lead time is necessary, she said, so that BC Transit can submit funding requests to the province and order new vehicles that can take up to 18 months to deliver.
The committee’s recommendation includes a clause stating the plan may be subject to change in the future. After final adoption by the SCRD board, the plan will be forwarded to the BC Transit board of directors for adoption and implementation, Newlove said.