Whistler, SLRD welcome transit review 

Local governments face funding challenges under current structure


Whistler's mayor welcomes an organizational review of BC Transit, the Crown corporation that partners with local governments to provide public transport throughout the province.

Ken Melamed said Thursday that the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) was pleased to hear a "positive response" from the provincial government after joining a group of political officials been calling for a review of the Crown corporation's governance. Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom announced the review Wednesday.

"As many people are aware, British Columbia has one of the most forward-looking and progressive transit partnerships in the country, but at the same time, many of us are struggling with how to fund it and different levels of relations," Melamed said.

"Our relationship has been very positive with BC Transit and the ministers, but at the same time, as you know, our system is challenged like everybody else's, so we're gratified to hear the minister is going to be doing this independent review and looking at ways that can make transit more viable in B.C."

The review follows meetings in Victoria and at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) Convention in which mayors and regional district chairs from across the province banded together to share concerns about their partnerships with BC Transit.

At a Sept. 14 meeting in Victoria, the mayors expressed concern about the Crown corporation's governance and funding; budget information and Annual Operating Agreements (AOAs); an increase in BC Transit management fees; increased debt service and maintenance costs; and communications between BC Transit and the local governments they work with.

Melamed said that mayors approached the minister about the possibility of making more gas tax funding available to Sea to Sky communities, with the object of putting that money into public transit.

The minister, however, said that wouldn't be part of the review.

"It's really about, here is the service, here is the governance structure," Lekstrom said in a Wednesday conference call. "Is it in the format that works better for local governments? Again, having served in local government, I can say we have a pretty darn good transit system."

Susie Gimse, chair of the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, also welcomed the review, saying that local governments don't get enough input into how BC Transit allocates its costs.

"The common message is we're all challenged with how BC Transit governs itself," Gimse said. "We're at a time when we're trying to reduce greenhouse gases and encourage people to get out of their cars and on to buses, yet what that bus system looks like, we have very little input into it as local governments."

The regional district administers public transit through AOAs, in which costs are shared between the Crown corporation, the Village of Pemberton and the Mount Currie Band. Gimse said the deadline to receive the most recent agreement was Oct. 1. Instead it came to the regional district this week, and that creates budget pressures on the local government.

"In terms of our annual operating agreement, they generally get that agreement to us at the deadline," she said. "If we're able to adjust our budget, then the impact's not too bad, because transit continues. It's not as if service discontinues, but if we've budgeted the amount, the costs come and they exceed what we've approved, then we are challenged."

BC Transit spokeswoman Joanna Linsangsan said the Crown corporation also welcomes the review.

"We feel this review will certainly confirm some of our strengths, what we're doing right, and hopefully identify other ways we can help our partners and customers," she said.




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