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The Globe and Mail

Municipalities should have more say in BC Transit partnership: panel

BC Rapid Transit Company's SkyTrain car, called the Mark II 1300 and 1400 Series.

Simon Hayter/The Globe and Mail/Simon Hayter/The Globe and Mail

Municipalities pay the majority of costs for BC Transit but get none of the credit and little input into how the system operates, an independent review of the Crown agency has found.

A panel has made 18 recommendations for change around how the province's transit system is administered in the 58 communities it serves.

All of those changes were welcomed by Nanaimo Regional District Chairman Joe Stanhope.

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"It's a partnership and we want to improve the partnership," Mr. Stanhope said at a news conference.

Mr. Stanhope said municipalities have been frustrated by decisions made by BC Transit without any input from them.

For example, he noted the municipalities and BC Transit haven't been operating on the same fiscal year, meaning the agency sometimes made decisions that boosted municipalities' costs after municipalities had finalized their budgets.

"One of the big issues that we faced was the decision of BC Transit to increase their management fees after we had passed our budget," he said. "We had to take those increases out of reserve."

Mr. Stanhope said the report brings much-needed hope for change and said he doesn't want to linger on the past.

BC Transit manages transit for all the jurisdictions in the province outside the Greater Vancouver area.

It is funded by the provincial government and the municipalities. Municipalities raise their portion through property taxes, fare collection – rates are set by the local government – and advertising revenues generated by the system.

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In most of the municipalities, local governments contribute 53 per cent of the funding and the province kicks in 47 per cent.

In Greater Victoria, the provincial government pays 32 per cent of transit funding, while the Victoria Regional Transit Commission picks up the rest of the bill.

Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton said there have been problems working with the transit administrator.

"To get routes changed is difficult, to get new routes added is difficult," said Mr. Ashton, adding there is no regional teamwork with neighbouring communities.

"We have to think these things through better and we have to deliver the services and the changes more quickly than what's taking place."

While Penticton subsidizes its transit by $6 per rider, Mr. Ashton said the city has little input into the way the system is being administered.

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The review reflected Mr. Ashton's frustrations.

"In spite of the provincial-local government funding partnership, BC Transit's governance and decision-making model does not recognize local government as a significant funding partner," the report said.

"As a result, local governments have little direct influence on many of the issues that impact the cost of delivering public transit in their community."

The review also said the structure of BC Transit makes it more accountable to the provincial government than to the municipalities it services.

The recommendations must still be considered by the province and they include giving local governments more ability to appoint their own representatives to BC Transit's board and for better consultation between both partners.

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom said all 18 recommendations will be considered by government. Eight will require legislative change.

Mr. Lekstrom said he planned to have a formal provincial response to the report in time for the Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting next month.

"I don't know if we'll move on all 18 or a subset of that 18," Mr. Lekstrom said.

"We'll do the work so that by the UBCM, we have a full response."

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