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Gabriola bus funding proposal to be considered by RDN board

The Gabriola Community Bus committee is looking to the Regional District of Nanaimo to keep the wheels rolling on proposed transit service for the Island.

The committee has submitted a request for $112,000 in funding through the Community Works Fund to purchase a Mercedes Benz Sprinter (11-15 passenger) for use in a two- to three-year pilot study which will ultimately measure the feasibility of public transport on Gabriola.

The proposal, which was accompanied by a petition containing 735 signatures of support, is expected to come before the regional district board mid-February.

“The support is very strong and vocal and people are very enthusiastic about it,” said Steve Earle, Gabriola Community Bus committee member.

The proposal outlines everything from bus routes to volunteer drivers to contingency funds which will account for lower ridership levels in the first six months of operation, and fundraising for a backup bus.

Operating costs for the service, which include fuel, insurance, and a part-time coordinator salary would be covered by user fares ($2.50 flat rate) and sponsorship/advertising revenues.

The $112,000 will cover the cost of the vehicle ($102,000), the installation and purchase of a wheelchair lift ($6,145), communication equipment ($2,000) and a three-year maintenance contract ($1,700).

“It’s going to have to pay for itself, there’s not going to be any subsidy for the operation,” Earle said. “If we find out after six months that we’re just losing money hand over fist, we’re going to have to re-evaluate at that point.”

Three routes are presented in the plan, with the most densely populated areas receiving service in the first phase of service, providing links to the village centre and ferry from the Berry Point Area, Taylor Bay and Whalebone Drive. Once the service is sustainable, the plan is to extend the route to southern areas of the island.

Gabriola RDN director Howard Houle said he has a few concerns but that the committee has been quite clear about what it has planned.

“I do have some concerns about volunteer drivers – not that they’re not qualified – it’s just whether or not they’re going to be able to get them on a regular basis,” he said. “Other than that, I think it will be a service that will develop as it goes along.

“They appear to be trying very hard to raise capital costs.”

Houle said the RDN will need to determine if the proposal fits into the Community Works Fund criteria before it proceeds.

If the funding is approved, the committee aims to have service up within a few months.

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