BC Transit is ready to launch a public bus service on the West Coast in September 2021, provided the participating communities are prepared to pay roughly $550,000 a year for it.
After receiving positive responses during a round of consultation in March, BC Transit returned to the West Coast last week with a bus service strategy tweaked by the public input it had received from residents.
“Everyone’s been really engaged. It’s been really great. We feel like we’ve really heard a lot of good feedback from the community and a lot of people have participated in the process so far,” BC Transit planner Lindsay Taylor told the Westerly News during Ucluelet’s open house on Oct. 29. “From that, we were able to tweak the schedules, tweak the routing in some places and really get an understanding of the needs of the community.”
The current plan is to have two buses running across the peninsula from May-October with buses leaving both Tofino and Ucluelet at 6 a.m. for the first trip of the day and the last trip scheduled to leave both towns at 9:10 p.m.From November-April, the service would be reduced to one bus that would start its day leaving Ucluelet at 7 a.m. with the first trip out of Tofino being at 8:10 a.m. The last trip out of Ucluelet would be 7:40 p.m. and out of Tofino would be 8:50 pm.
The original schedule presented in March had the winter bus starting its day in Tofino, but, Taylor said, that was switched because public input suggested more riders would need to leave Ucluelet to get to work in Tofino than the other way around.
“We’ve heard strongly that there’s more people that are travelling from Ucluelet into Tofino in the morning and that the first trip should start there,” she said. “We’ve actually made that switch to make sure the community knows that we’ve heard them and we know that’s a need here.”
Alberni Clayoquot Regional District’s general manager of environmental services Rob Williams explained that the ACRD would need to collect an estimated $550,000 from the participating communities in order to cover the annual cost of the service, including leasing the buses.
The cost breakdown for each community is expected to be: $274,319 from Tofino, $183,922 from Ucluelet, $74,130 from Electoral Area C, $16,498 from the Ucluelet First Nation and $1,131 from the Toquaht First Nation. Breaking the jurisdictional costs down further, the average Tofino household can expect to pay roughly $167 per year with the average Ucluelet household paying $98 and the average Area C household paying $88.
“They’re estimates at this time and there is a bit of flexibility within that number to cover overages and increases overtime,” Williams said. “It’s rural transit, so it tends to be more expensive because you don’t pick up people along the whole duration of the trip.”
That $550,000 figure includes an estimated $161,000 coming in from a $2 one-way ridership fare, though Williams noted it will be up to the communities to decide what fee to charge.
“All of the revenue captured from fares gets to offset the cost for the local government, BC Transit doesn’t take any of the revenue,” he said.
Before the service can move ahead, the ACRD must obtain permission from the area’s taxpayers and, Williams explained, it can do that through either a referendum or an alternate approval process. The ACRD board has picked the latter, which means anyone opposed to the service and costs associated with it must complete a form and submit it prior to Nov. 29 at 4 p.m. Forms can be found online at www.acrd.bc.ca as well as both Tofino and Ucluelet’s district offices.
“The board felt there was enough support and momentum for this service, to go that route as opposed to a more costly referendum,” Williams said, adding that a referendum would cost an estimated $20,000 compared to the alternative approval process’ roughly $3,000 price tag.
If 10 per cent of residents, roughly 602 people, submit opposition forms, the ACRD must decide whether to hold a referendum or cancel the service, according to Williams.
“We believe that we won’t get 10 per cent, but that could happen and then the board has a decision to make,” he said.
Ucluelet councillor Rachelle Cole attended the open house and said she supports bringing the service to the West Coast.
“One of our main concerns in the whole area is transportation,” she said. “I think this is fabulous news for the West Coast. It’s been a long time coming and let’s just get there; get’r done.”
She added that there could be other funding sources to look for other than taxation to pay for the service.
“I don’t know if it necessarily needs to translate directly to a tax hike,” she said, adding Ucluelet’s council could discuss alternative budgeting options.
“I think there’s always going to be opposition to an increase and some people might not be able to realize or understand how their household situation and their current finances can handle that…I think that there will be a way to make it happen because we really need this and we’ll pull it together.”
Tofino mayor Josie Osborne also expressed support for the service.
“It offers more independence to youth and seniors, and anyone who does not drive. Public transit, in addition to the other transit offerings in Tofino—the Free Summer Shuttle and the Tiki Bus—will help to reduce traffic congestion, parking issues, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. She acknowledged that Tofitians are being asked to pay more than the other communities because of their assessed property values.
“In the case of ACRD services on the West Coast, like the airport, landfill and proposed transit and proposed multiplex, Tofino property owners do pay more than Area C or Ucluelet residents, because our properties are valued higher,” she said.
“Overall, the property tax system is not the fairest way to collect revenue for local government services and facilities, mostly because they are unrelated to the people’s ability to pay them (unlike income taxes and sales taxes) and they disproportionately affect lower income households…Unfortunately, as inferior as it is, the property tax system is the system local governments are required to use, and we have to ensure transparent decision-making as well as excellent value and service for taxes collected.”