About 25 people sat in a circle in MLA Adam Olsen’s constituency office in Sidney on a Saturday morning to talk about transportation.
On March 24, planners from BC Transit, members of the business community, local councillors, Mark Collins (president and CEO of BC Ferries) and Saanich Peninsula residents listened, addressed a variety of local and regional concerns, and brought their ideas with them.
One resident was concerned there was no direct public transit from downtown Victoria or Swartz Bay to the airport. He wanted number 88 bus extended to the ferry terminal instead of only running between Sidney and the airport. One Salt Spring Island resident is happy with bus service there (after six years of lobbying). She highlighted the associated costs of having more cars on the road, which includes slower emergency response times, street cleaning and road repairs. She felt the social cost of driving meant there was not enough money left for transit.
“We’ve been giving a free ride to automobile companies and we should get them to pay,” she said.
One man said busy families or contractors like himself cannot use public transit because they have tools to carry or lifestyles that don’t align with public transit. He encouraged policymakers to consider multiple alternative modes of transport like electric cars or bikes instead of only buses.
Olsen said he has taken the bus many times from his home in Brentwood Bay to the Legislature, and that worked well. But coming home was a problem if he had an event to go to or he needed to go back to the constituency office. His internal combustion car broke down around December, so he got an electric car recently.
Planners from BC Transit said they are making changes in Sept 2018 to some of the Saanich Peninsula routes like the 81, 83, 85, 88, and a new 87 that will go through Dean Park. Part of that strategy is better timing the 88 with the 70s so passengers are not waiting with their luggage at McTavish Interchange for 20 minutes or more.
As the Green Party’s critic for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure as well as Municipal Affairs and Housing, Olsen said while he was optimistic the current NDP government is more likely to make transit investments than the previous one, a persistent challenge was the “intensely fortified silos that exist and the lack of ability or lack of willingness to communicate and collaborate,” referring to government bodies in general.
One person, whose husband is a schoolteacher on Salt Spring Island, said fixing “low-hanging fruit” like scheduling would be a good start. Teachers who live on the Saanich Peninsula but teach on the Gulf Islands are in a bind, she said, because dismissal times don’t line up with the ferry schedule. Gulf Islands Secondary School dismisses at 4:10 p.m., but the ferry back to Swartz Bay leaves at 3:50 p.m. Teachers either have to leave school early or wait until the next ferry, two whole hours later.
BC Transit staff said they have a 25-year strategy — the Transit Future Plan (released May 2011) — which involves two rapid transit corridors, one to Langford on Hwy. 1 and one to the Saanich Peninsula on Hwy. 17. These corridors would have fewer stops, higher frequency (15-minute waits or shorter) and higher capacity (either light rail or high capacity buses).
There will soon be a 10,000 hour expansion on four bus routes, but after that, their vehicle maintenance yards will be at capacity. Before they can provide more peak-hour service, they will require a third maintenance facility to maintain the extra buses. That would take three to five years to plan and build. A local area transit plan for the Saanich Peninsula in 2019 will look at transit at the neighbourhood level, and provide a five to 10 year strategy for incremental steps. BC Transit planners also said they were excited for a CRD Origin-Destination Study, which was undertaken in the winter of 2017. A survey had not been done in six years. The purpose of the study was to learn more about passengers’ lifestyles and their destinations to design better transportation options in the future. One early observation is that not all passengers want to go to downtown Victoria. Instead, there is increased interest in cross-town routes (from the West Shore to the Saanich Peninsula, for instance).
The results will be given to BC Transit in the spring and released to the public in the summer.