The wheels have fallen off the West Coast’s BC Transit plan as the provincial government has pulled out of its funding commitment, leaving regional district officials scrambling to find an alternative transportation solution.
The plan was first announced in 2019 with BC Transit officials hosting public engagement sessions across the West Coast leading up to the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District Board unanimously approving the program’s launch, which was initially scheduled for 2021.
An alternative approval process was conducted rather than a referendum and West Coast residents agreed to pay the roughly $550,000 annual operating costs for two buses to run between Tofino and Ucluelet three times a day from May-October, cutting down to one bus from November-April.
The annual pay structure by communities was expected to see Tofino cover about $274,319, roughly $167 per household, Ucluelet cover about $183,922, roughly $98 per household and
Electoral Area C to cover about $74,130, roughly $88 per household along with additional funding from the Ucluelet First Nation and Toquaht First Nation.
The provincial government was expected to support the service with approximately $531,000 of funding, but the launch date was delayed twice and Tofino mayor Dan Law told the Westerly News there were indications that the province might not be able to fulfil its funding portion, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic heavily impacting BC Transit’s budget.
Law said local leaders attended the Union of BC Municipalities Convention in September and sought out a definitive answer from Minister of Transportation Rob Fleming, where they were told the province would likely not be including the service in this or next year’s budget.
“It’s disappointing of course. I am a big supporter of transit on the Coast. I think we do need it. All of our communities have agreed that this is something that has to happen,” Law said. “This was definitely a major regional investment in time, effort and money. I am convinced that a transit system on the Coast is essential for people of all ages…I’m looking forward to working with other local elected officials on the Coast to get something up in the meantime. I think it’s that essential.”
The ACRD is now looking into alternative transit opportunities and, during an Oct. 6 regional board meeting, staff said they are investigating possibilities.
“Obviously there’s a lot of questions, concerns and disappointments regarding the meeting that was held at UBCM with Minister Fleming. In light of the information from the Minister, we’re looking for a pathway forward,” said Tom Stere, Tofino’s ACRD representative.
“I’ll admit I had some initial hesitation around this because we’ve already done a lot of work to establish what is the solution for transit on the West Coast here and we would like to proceed forward with what we think is the best case scenario. So, to ask the ACRD to look at this again does sting a little bit I have to admit. However, if there’s a practical solution that meets the service needs and can be identified, of course I’ll be supportive of that.”
He added though that any alternative solutions should be considered temporary with the BC Transit service remaining the key priority.
“I just want to make it clear the ultimate solution is to have BC Transit as the service provider in this case, that’s long term stability for a service that we know is critically important out here on the West Coast,” he said. “To meet the immediate needs, I get it, but I want to make sure that does not compromise the long-term plan that we have charted moving forward.”
ACRD operations manager Eddie Kunderman said staff are investigating “interim measures.”
“Obviously, to try and find different sources of funding, we’re going to have to get creative about where we go and what we’re piloting and with whom we partner,” he said. “With any luck and some stars aligning, we may find some interesting sources of funding and ability to pilot something different.”