The regional transit chair says the lack of an increase in Greater Victoria’s fuel tax is putting the brakes on planned service improvements.
Saanich Coun. Susan Brice, who chairs the Victoria Regional Transit Commission, said she’s disappointed a two-cent-a-litre increase to the region’s gas tax was not included in the provincial budget.
“The commission made it very clear to the province that any transit service expansion was contingent on an increase to the gas tax,” said Brice. “The decision from the province to not increase the gas tax, as requested and expected, means the VRTC will defer service expansion and look at potential service reductions to stay within our available operating budget.”
She said the plans were to add 24,000 hours and 10 more buses to existing routes this year. “That expansion isn’t possible without the increase to the gas tax.”
Transportation Minister Todd Stone called any suggestion of a service reduction “a bit premature,” saying the province increased its funding for Greater Victoria transit by 25 per cent in last week’s budget, when considering a combination of capital and operating expenses.
“We’re not convinced that there’s a clear consensus, not just amongst local governments in Greater Victoria, but the public,” Stone told reporters at the B.C. legislature last week. “I’ve received as many submissions from the residents, the people who live in Greater Victoria, who are opposed to a gas tax increase as I have from those who have advocated for it.”
Brice said under the current formula, the province pays 31 per cent of the operating costs for Greater Victoria Transit.
“They have added to their share, that’s fine, but that triggers a formula which then requires a certain amount from the local government. And we needed that two cents a litre to meet the local share,” she said.
While most B.C. communities split their transit costs evenly with the province, Victoria covers two-thirds of the cost of running its system.
“I guess way back in the day, long before my time, there was some kind of a legislated agreement that Victoria would have these three levers. Victoria would have property tax, it would have the fare box and it would have gas tax,” said Brice.
She points out that while the property tax levy has climbed by more than 200 per cent in the last decade, the gas tax has been unchanged for the last eight years.
“The reality is if one of those levers, the gas tax, is basically frozen where it was nearly 10 years ago, that isn’t really allowing that formula [to function properly],” said Brice.
Stone also rejected the idea of a TransLink-style transportation agency for the region.
“I don’t think what the people of Greater Victoria need is another agency, or another layer of government to ensure that transportation investments take place,” Stone said.
A review of options to reduce operating costs is expected to be discussed at Tuesday’s VRTC meeting.
Douglas Street bus lane goes to tender
The construction tender to extend the northbound bus lane along Douglas Street to Saanich Road has been posted on BC Bid. Work is anticipated to start this spring.
“I’m happy to see this key B.C. on the Move project moving forward to the tender phase,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone. “This extension to the northbound bus lane will reduce travel time for bus users on the busiest transit corridor in the Victoria region.”
When construction is complete from Tolmie Avenue to Saanich Road later this year, there will be continuous northbound transit priority from Fisgard Street to Uptown. Design work is continuing on the section that will run north from Saanich Road and tie into the future interchange at Admirals and McKenzie.
“The extended bus and bike-priority lanes on Douglas Street will improve on-time performance and make transit a more effective and efficient transportation option,” said Manuel Achadinha, president and CEO of BC Transit. “By reducing travel times, the existing bus and bike priority lanes have helped us better connect people and communities.”
The estimated total cost for the northbound bus lane from Tolmie Avenue to the McKenzie interchange is $10.05 million, with the province contributing $5.425 million and the government of Canada providing up to $4.625 million under the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund.