Local input needed on transit board

NANAIMO: Local elected officials should get seats on the B.C. Transit board and have more say on changes.

Local elected officials should get seats on the B.C. Transit board and have more say on changes that affect their local service, a review of B.C. Transit operations has recommended.

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom appointed a review team in March after complaints that the provincially-appointed B.C. Transit board was making costly changes without consulting the communities whose fares and property taxes cover more than half the cost of transit service.

Joe Stanhope, chairman of the Nanaimo Regional District, was on hand with Lekstrom to release the report Tuesday. Stanhope said the recommendations of the review team are “exactly what we wanted.

“There were some problems, and the basic problems were communications,” he said. “It’s all about governance. It’s fundamental changes need to happen so that local government is recognized as a real partner and I think the recommendations of this report do that.”

Stanhope raised the alarm in 2011 after B.C. Transit notified local officials of a doubling of management fees, after municipalities had adopted their budgets for the year. Nanaimo also protested a plan to move some of the community’s new buses out and replace them with older ones.

The provincial government pays 47 per cent of costs for B.C. Transit service in partnership with 58 local governments. B.C. Transit has a target to double its ridership to 100 million passenger trips by 2018.

When he ordered the review, Lekstrom ruled out any increase in the provincial share of funding.

On Tuesday he declined to comment on specific recommendations until they have been reviewed by local communities and discussed at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention this fall.

Recommendations include: a local government advisory panel to consult on system-wide capital expenditures; local governments should share information on long-term transit budget changes, land use and zoning decisions; the province should amend the B.C. Transit Act to allow multi-year operating agreements; and B.C. Transit should report to municipalities twice a year ridership, cost per capita, passengers per capita and other performance measures.

Manuel Achadinha, B.C. Transit president and CEO, said the recommendations by the panel will help shape the future of B.C. Transit and make it better.

“We have proven that we are operating efficiently and effectively under the existing governance model,” he said. “We are confident that any changes to the governance model will ensure that we can continue to provide efficient and effective transit service to our customers and to taxpayers.”

Aside from an intent to improve communications and strengthen the partnership between local and provincial governments, neither Stanhope or Lekstrom could pinpoint specifics about how those levels of government will change the ways they conduct business over future B.C. Transit issues.

Stanhope was positive, though, about eventual outcome of the review and future dealings through the partnership.

“I haven’t gone through with a fine-tooth comb all of the 18 recommendations, but the theme that we’re talking about – government decision making and accountability – are all addressed in this report and those are the things local government asked for,” he said. “I can see it being a smooth ride from here on.”

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