The good news is that BC Transit is working, growing from 190 buses in 13 communities in 1979 to 1,028 buses in 2010-2011 in 81 communities, and from an annual ridership of 19.2 million to 51.2 million. The bad news is that while communities are generally happy with the level of provincial support — up to 53 per cent of funding of transit services — they feel BC Transit could be working better.
In March, former Minister of Transportation Blair Lekstrom commissioned an independent review of BC Transit. The review panel commissioned a survey of local governments that use BC Transit, with 90 per cent agreeing to take part. That formed the basis of a list of 18 recommendations and a 100-plus-page report for fixing the system. As well, a panel of local government mayors and administrators worked to come up with solutions.
The results of the survey were mixed, with many communities giving BC Transit a low grade for things like accessibility, communication and accountability.
For example, one survey question asked communities to select a statement that most closely matches their attitude towards BC Transit; 83 per cent of respondents selected "BC Transit needs to work better with local governments." Just eight per cent said BC Transit works fine now, while nine per cent favoured scrapping BC Transit altogether.
The complete results of the survey are available in the report, which is posted on the Ministry of Transportation website at www.th.gov.bc.ca/BC_Transit_Review/.
The report was completed in August and on Sept. 25, the provincial government endorsed the recommendations at the Union of British Columbia Municipalities' annual meeting in Victoria.
"The panel said we have a good transit system," noted current transportation minister Mary Polak. "We are taking action to make it even better by strengthening the partnership between BC Transit and local governments."
Among other things, the panel found that British Columbians "receive good value for their transit dollar" but local governments need improvements to the decision-making process, governance and accountability between BC Transit, local governments and the provincial government.
Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden could not attend the transit session at the UBCM, but said councillors Jack Crompton and John Grills attended on Whistler's behalf. She's encouraged by what she's heard.
"What they're focusing on is improvements to the decision-making process, improvements to governance and accountability between BC Transit and local government, and all of those things are good as far we're concerned," she said.
Heath Slee, the UBCM president, said the province's review was welcomed.
"The independent panel did a good job engaging local governments to solicit meaningful feedback. Now that the provincial government has provided an official response to the report, local governments will be able to judge for themselves whether the recommendations address the concerns raised during the consultation period. I encourage all communities that utilize BC Transit's service to provide feedback to the minister."
The list of 13 recommendations includes refining and defining the roles and expectations of the three partners — municipalities, BC Transit and the provincial government. As well the recommendations covered topics like increasing the board of directors' membership from seven to nine; revising the appointment process to the board; allowing local governments to appoint all members of a local transit commission; involving BC Transit in community planning when it could impact transit; creating a strategic communications plan to share information; enhanceing accountability in operating agreements; amending acts and regulations to allow for multi-year operating agreements; setting appropriate service standards for the entire system; and providing two reports a year to local governments on things like ridership, costs and service hours.