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CRD pitches takeover of area transit

May 23 2012

The Capital Regional District officially makes its case today for taking over Greater Victoria transit services, stressing the need to increase representation for all 13 municipalities in the region.

CRD directors meet this morning with a government-appointed review panel that is mandated to scrutinize B.C. Transit operations around the province.

Part of that review focuses on the governance model for the Victoria Regional Transit Commission, which some municipal politicians say is in need of an overhaul.

Even commission members suggest changes might be in order considering some of the regional long-term plans, such as light rail transit and the E&N Railway.

"If you're getting into those kind of expenditures, you have to have the broadest buy-in from all the communities that will have to pay for it," said transit commission chairwoman Susan Brice.

The CRD proposal, which was posted to its website Tuesday, says the commission does not have "independent staff to ensure local interests are adequately represented." It also suggests both the commission and the regional district "are not adequately consulted on the B.C. Transit capital plan" for the region.

B.C. Transit staff have already met with the three member review panel that was appointed in March by Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom.

"I don't think some of what we're reading in the submission from the CRD is any different from what we've heard from some of the members already," said B.C. Transit spokeswoman Meribeth Burton.

"We want to run the best B.C. Transit system that we can as well, so if there's a better way of doing that, then we'll listen to what the panel has to say."

The current transit commission has seven members representing just five municipalities.

The makeup includes two representatives from Victoria, two from Saanich, one from either Oak Bay or Esquimalt, one representing Sidney, North Saanich or Central Saanich and another representing the entire West Shore.

The CRD has appointed representatives from all communities, which would provide everyone with representation, said Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, who has been one of the loudest proponents of increasing the region's control of transit.

He and Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin were two of the first CRD directors to push for the review last summer.

"B.C. Transit does things in the best interest of the Crown corporation and the shareholder is the provincial government, not the local taxpayer," Leonard said.

"Maybe 99 per cent of the time, they are acting in the best interest of the public, but they are a contractor and they should be subject to scrutiny."

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins wants more representation around the region as well, but is reluctant to embrace the CRD's proposal.

"I don't know if the CRD is the full answer," she said. "Is it better than the commission now? Yes, but we may just need to change the commission to have better representation."

The provincial panel will analyze B.C. Transit services in more than 50 communities, excluding Metro Vancouver, which is not included in the review.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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