After hosting open houses in Tofino, Ucluelet and Hitacu last week, BC Transit left the West Coast feeling confident about its plan to bring a peninsula-wide bus service to the area.
“We got a lot of great feedback from people. There are some things that we’re going to take back and make some tweaks and adjustments from what we’ve proposed here and we’re really excited to move this forward,” BC Transit’s senior planner Lindsay Taylor told the Westerly News during Ucluelet’s open house on April 4. “Everyone’s been really positive about everything so far. It’s really exciting for a community that does not have a transit system to see the potential of what a transit system can do…There’s a couple of details that we’ll need to nail down, but people seem pretty positive.”
The bus schedule presented at the open houses showed two buses running between Tofino, Hitacu and Ucluelet. Each bus would leave Tofino and Ucluelet at the same time three times a day—8:20 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6:50 p.m.—and arrive in the other town one hour and 30 minutes later.
Taylor said the feedback received from West Coasters centred around scheduling and routes and that BC Transit plans to present a summary of the feedback it received to the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District in June.
“From there, we should have some direction on how we want to move forward,” she said.
As was reported in last week’s Westerly News, the service is expected to cost roughly $1.1 million annually if Hitacu is included on the bus route, or roughly $941,000 if Hitacu is not included. BC Transit would cover about 47 per cent of that cost leaving West Coast residents on the hook for the remaining 53 percent. If that 53 per cent is covered entirely by property taxes, BC Transit’s calculations suggest Ucluelet and Electoral Area C residents would pay $45-$135 and Tofino residents would pay $100-$190 annually.
“It definitely came up at the open house yesterday that when a service funded through the Regional District is paid for by Tofino, Ucluelet and Area C alone, the lion’s share of the cost does fall to Tofino taxpayers because the property values are higher in Tofino,” Tofino mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly News. “Certainly people are concerned and it’s important that they understand how the taxes all fall out and that there are some things we can control with that and there are some things that we cannot.”
She suggested other funding sources could be explored, along with potential contributions from Parks Canada and local First Nations, to ease the tax burden and added that the response from Tofino residents towards the transit plan has been positive.
“There’s a lot of time still left for those conversations around how the funding will all fall out. Right now, what’s really important is to get a sense from the public; is this a service that they want, that they need, that they can benefit from and, right now, I would say everything is indicating towards, ‘Yes,’” she said. “These are the kinds of decisions that are difficult to make in the now, but in 10 years we’ll thank ourselves for having the foresight as traffic increases, congestion, parking, greenhouse gas and other climate change concerns come up. This is the direction that we have to go.”
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Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel agreed, telling the Westerly that he was excited by BC Transit’s presentation and potential local service.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the entire region…I just want to get it happening sooner than later,” he said. “The critical component is our neighbouring First Nations communities and ensuring that all our communities are involved in the layout and the plan going forward on this.”
Electoral Area C director Kel Robert said he’s excited to see a transit service take shape, but that he’d like to see the bus route go all the way into Millstream, rather than just stopping along the Pacific Rim Highway as currently proposed.
“I think this is a really good first step initiative to provide it for the whole peninsula…It’s excellent,” he said adding the Area C residents he’d spoken with supported the idea. “They think that it’s long overdue…They’re totally in favour of it. They all seem to be on board and we’d like to see it going as soon as possible.”