Toned down transit plans move ahead 

SLRD to consult with member municipalities in developing regional transit plan

After some debate, the Squamish Lillooet Regional District still plans to develop a regional transit plan, and will be looking to member municipalities for input.

At an SLRD meeting held at the end of January, Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed says there were some concerns raised about a proposed regional transit plan for the entire corridor, which would link Lillooet and Squamish.

“There had been a letter from the District of Squamish asking the Regional District not to go ahead with the establishment of that service, and Whistler had expressed similar concerns,” Melamed said.

In November, the board approved a series of initiatives intended to help establish a regional transit planning service, and to make the SLRD eligible to apply for $1,191,531 through the Federal-Provincial Gas Tax Agreement to go towards transit infrastructure, like bus pullouts and shelters, and park and rides.

“We’re in the process of developing a Regional Growth Strategy, and one of the goals in that document is to improve transportation linkages,” Area C director Susie Gimse said. “One of the strategic directions that we’ve all agreed to is to consider a model for the provision of regional transit service that would create a bus service between the major centres in the region.”

To apply for the funding, Gimse says the board first has to establish the service in a bylaw, an idea that was supported back in November.

But it seems like some members are having second thoughts.

“The larger municipalities came back and went, ‘whoa, wait a minute. We’re not ready yet to look at a regional transit service.’”

Gimse attributes the hesitation to a misunderstanding about how a regional transit service would work.

  “I think the municipalities were concerned that the Regional District was going to take over the delivery of transit service within municipalities, and that’s not the direction we want to go. We want to be able to link into municipal transit systems and connect the communities within the region.”

She points out that they have a lot of planning to do to work out the details, which means they need the funding.

Melamed says Whistler supports planning for regional transit and transportation, although there are some questions that still need to be answered.

“What we haven’t agreed to in the corridor is an operating model, so is there a function at the Regional District that runs the transit service?” Melamed questioned. “Most of the transit service existing runs between Squamish and Pemberton. Do those three municipalities eventually run services with support of the Regional District?”

Melamed says there are also funding issues which need to be discussed.

“Unfortunately, transit service is run at cheap subsidies, and with budgets being a challenge for everybody, we have to be very clear in understanding how we pay for it.”

Despite these concerns, Melamed says Whistler is still supportive of the idea of regional transit.

“Whistler’s position is that we’re still very committed to regional transit – we just need to figure out the best way to deliver it and a fair and equitable way to fund it.”

The board also had introduced the idea of implementing a new residential tax to go towards planning and implementation of infrastructure construction, which was balked at by some board members.

“They didn’t want to contribute funding towards the service, so we actually scaled that back to half a cent per thousand (dollars),” Gimse said, “It was in November about two cents per thousand (dollars).”

Based on the 2007 Revised Assessments, this should raise $65,847.50 each year.

According to Melamed, that should establish enough funding to support a half-time planner who can develop regional infrastructure, but not a regional transit service.

Gimse says the timing is right for the Regional District to be developing a transit service, because the funding is available to local governments to embark on these kinds of initiatives, and adds that the board has committed to being more environmentally-conscious.

“The general public supports some kind of regional transit service. We talk about the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We all signed onto the Climate Action Charter. We’ve all agreed to start making advances in the reduction of greenhouse gases. Regional transit makes sense.”

The SLRD directed staff to continue dialogue between administrators from all parties, and have initiated an Alternative Approval Process to obtain electoral assent for the necessary bylaw.

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