A common complaint about politicians yakking about climate-change and car emissions is the solutions they propose often hit Joe and Jane Public in the pocket.
If there are no reliable alternatives to ditching the car what are people to do?
Councillor Zeb King of Central Saanich has an idea: free bus travel. For everyone.
The CRD has declared a climate emergency, encouraging Greater Victoria municipalities to follow suit. And although Central Saanich declined to do so, there is a determination among some on Council to do something to combat the situation.
King has put forward a motion, to be voted on May 6, requesting the Transport Commissioner for the Saanich Peninsula come before Council. The Commissioner’s presence would allow a forum for residents and staff to highlight transport issues important to the district. The current Commissioner is North Saanich Mayor Geoff Orr, who is one of seven representatives on the Victoria Regional Transit Commission, a body that has sweeping powers to make transit decisions for the region.
The motion is important to some residents as their municipality’s views are essentially represented by a North Saanich official with no accountability to Central Saanich voters.
King wants a new bus stop and free bus travel discussed if the vote goes his way.
“I don’t think we necessarily need to put electric car chargers everywhere, although that might be one [helpful] thing, but I think we should remove the barriers for people, no matter their age or income, to get from Point A to Point B and let’s publicly fund public transit and not then tack on a user fee, in addition.”
The council have been called a “vocal council for improvements to transit” over the years and although they control some transport elements, such as bus stop sites, they don’t have power over bigger issues without the support of the Commission.
King is of the opinion that key public services like hospitals, police and even libraries don’t charge user fees so why should transit?
“I think its a bit of a hard sell to tell everyone that they need to be driving electric cars, but an equalizer is public transit - kids, seniors, everyone can use it so if we’re going to be serious about tackling this climate emergency lets make transit efficient, effective and helpful for everyone.”
It is understood that the City of Victoria are considering a similar proposal to have free transit and are exploring different ways to fund it, including through increased parking fees. King suggests Central Saanich could fund the initiative through property taxes, although exact numbers would need to be calculated.
BC Transit was unable to provide passenger revenues isolated to stops involving Central Saanich but said passenger revenues in the Victoria Regional Transit System (VRTS) as a whole in 2017/18 were $40.8 million. The current year is still being calculated.
It said in a statement, “The VRTS is funded by the Victoria Regional Transit Commission and the Province of BC. The Commission’s contribution to the VRTS is funded through revenue, property taxes and fuel tax.”