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B.C. Transit ignoring municipal voices: panel

Aug 15 2012

The provincial government will consider a new transit authority for Greater Victoria, based on a report from an independent review panel that calls for regional governments across B.C. to have more control over local transit decisions.

A report from the three-member panel, released Tuesday by Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom, gives 18 recommendations focused largely on mending the relationship between B.C. Transit and municipal and regional governments.

Lekstrom appointed the independent panel in March, responding to complaints from mayors and other elected officials who said decisions by B.C. Transit were being made without consultation with communities. The minister plans to get feedback from local politicians before announcing any changes in late September.

The report outlines ways to increase the profile of local transit authorities across the province by encouraging more regional transit commissions and allowing municipalities to appoint members to B.C. Transit’s board of directors.

In the current system, B.C. Transit is “primarily accountable to only … the provincial government,” the report states. “The partnership between B.C. Transit and local government needs to be redefined.”

Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard has long called for more local control of transit. He said most of the report’s 18 recommendations should have already been in place.

“Their recommendations, some of them could be described as best practice, and it’s unfortunate it took an independent panel to bring this to B.C. Transit’s attention,” he said.

Lekstrom also gave specific direction to study the Victoria Regional Transit Commission because municipal politicians had concerns about the appropriate level of representation in the 13 municipalities that are serviced by B.C. Transit.

The panel did not give a recommendation on the region’s commission, but it provided a list of pros and cons for three options, including the status quo.

The report states that the current model does not match up with ongoing population growth, which has largely been in the seven West Shore municipalities, including the Juan de Fuca electoral area. The commission currently has just one representative for the entire West Shore, two from Victoria, two from Saanich, one representing Oak Bay and Esquimalt, and one representing Sidney, North Saanich or Central Saanich.

Leonard and Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin brought the issue to the board last year. A unanimous vote endorsed a locally controlled transit system, but several politicians later said they did not want it controlled by the CRD.

“It’s an issue of governing here in Greater Victoria,” Leonard said. “People want regional control, but they don’t want the CRD to have it.”

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins has not supported a CRD takeover. She has advocated for more representation on the commission as the best solution, but she is reluctant to agree with the review panel’s suggestion to cap that expansion at 11 members.

“That means not every community will have representation, but I like that the panel looked at both the CRD and a revised commission scenario,” she said.

B.C. Transit officials said they would work with the government on any changes announced during Lekstrom’s official response at the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference Sept. 24-28.

“We don’t have a preference,” said B.C. Transit president and CEO Manuel Achadinha said. “Knowing that if changes do come about it will take time, we’re going to continue to work to improve the processes with the existing commission.”

The review panel’s recommendations to improve local control across the province include increasing the size of the B.C. Transit board of directors from seven to nine and giving local government a say in appointing members to that board. Currently, local governments can only provide nominations to the provincial government.

The report recommends that local governments appoint representatives to regional commissions, which the panel says would encourage more regional systems. Victoria has the only commission in the province, but board members are appointed by the provincial government.

dspalding@timescolonist.com


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