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Transit commission doesn't represent all communities, appointees say

Mar 12 2012

Appointees to the newly formed Victoria Regional Transit Commission say the group’s governance model fails to best represent all its member communities, particularly those in the rapidly growing West Shore.

The provincial government finally appointed four members to the seven-person commission Friday, leaving them little time to prepare a transit budget before the March 31 deadline.

Members selected from the 13 communities in the Capital Regional District likely will have an orientation session in the coming days to prepare for budget discussions, which could be scheduled within the next week.

Aside from crunching numbers, though, this group of municipal politicians says a new governance model should be considered to improve representation for all communities in the region. Some call for transit authority to be handed over completely to the CRD, while others say minor adjustments to the commission could be the solution.

“I think it’s possible to change the representation without changing the model, if the model is right,” said Victoria Coun. Marianne Alto, one of the new appointees.

Sidney Mayor Larry Cross, Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins and Colwood Mayor Carol Hamilton were also appointed by Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom. All four join three existing members who survived last fall’s municipal elections: Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin and Saanich Coun. Susan Brice.

Leonard wants transit authority to be transferred to the CRD. Lekstrom said Friday he will consider this option in a full review of B.C. Transit operations.

“I’m hoping this is the last budget the commission ever passes and that the CRD takes over,” Leonard said. “I’m not looking at solving a lot of medium- and long-term problems [this term] because I’m looking for a whole new system of governance next year.”

The current system has just one member representing the six communities that make up the West Shore. There can also only be one member appointed from Esquimalt or Oak Bay councils, which means one of those communities does not have direct representation.

Hamilton will represent the entire West Shore. That is not an easy task.

“I’m sure I’ll be hearing from each of those municipalities to bring me up to speed about their concerns, so it’s not just a Colwood perspective being brought forward,” she said. “I’d like there to be more representation in the West Shore. I think it’s important to have the people most affected by the whole entity involved with how that organization is operating.”

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins would like to see changes made to how each community is represented on the commission, but stopped short of calling for a full transfer of control.

“Our commission certainly needs a restructuring,” she said. “But I also have some concerns with the governance of the CRD.”

She wants to study how other regions, such as Vancouver, govern their transit responsibilities.

The immediate goal, however, will be to tackle this year’s budget. The easiest decision, said Leonard, would be to accept a B.C. Transit proposal, which freezes taxpayers’ rates at 2011-12 levels.

Homeowners paid on average about $120 in transit taxes last year after a hike that averaged about $28 per household.

The proposed freeze is largely thanks to an unexpected increase of $1.4 million in passenger revenues, which were originally expected to come in at about $35.5 million.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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