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CRD must find consensus on transit, minister says

Sep 26 2012

Greater Victoria municipalities need to reach more of a consensus before the province will decide if the region can take over its own transit services.

Transportation Minister Mary Polak said there was a clear divide over the issue among municipal politicians in the Capital Regional District.

Polak, who recently took over from Blair Lekstrom, responded Tuesday to an independent review of B.C. Transit that gave 18 recommendations on how to rebuild relationships with local government partners who have long felt ignored by the provincial Crown corporation.

Polak made it clear that B.C. Transit and local governments must improve their communication when making changes to operating budgets and service levels, but said she would not make any decision about transit governance in the capital region.

"It's disappointing, but not surprising," said Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, one of the loudest proponent of a CRD takeover. "First of all, she had a panel that didn't make a recommendation on the CRD's proposal, but instead gave three options. That made me think we could be disappointed today."

The independent review panel's report, released in mid-August, provided three governance options - maintaining the sevenmember Victoria Regional Transit Commission, expanding the commission to at least 11 members and a CRD transit takeover - but did not endorse any of them.

The CRD board of directors unanimously supported the takeover in May, but several politicians have since expressed concern about the proposed model. They are now calling for expanded representation of the current commission.

An expansion would require legislative changes and Polak said she wants the region's elected officials to come to a consensus before making a decision.

"I'm asking local government in the capital region to carefully consider all three options," she said. "This has to happen before we can adopt a recommendation that we can all live with."

Other notable changes to B.C. Transit provincewide include creating a standard to find board members with the most qualified skills. Local governments will also be able to make recommendations for the B.C. Transit board of directors and regional commissions, according to Polak's response.

The minister will still have the final say.

Polak will also consider expanding both the commission and the board to improve local representation, but such decisions would have to wait for legislative changes.

"We're acting on changes we can make without having to wait," Polak said.

In an effort to improve the relationship between the ministry, B.C. Transit and local governments, changes to services or spending will be discussed by Transit and its partners well ahead of any decision making, Polak said.

The provincial government will also consult its partners before changing provincial public transit policy.

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