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WAVE to absorb new gas tax



Transit to cut winter service next season to make up shortfall

Public transit in British Columbia will not be exempt from the B.C. government’s new 3.5 cent a litre gasoline tax, nor will they have any say in how that tax is spent, B.C. Transit was told last week.

The new tax was effective as of March 1. Combined with rising gasoline prices as war threatens the Middle East, the price of fuel has reached record highs around the province, breaking the 90 cent barrier in many communities.

Transit companies around the province have so far been spared the effects of the increase, having negotiated fuel futures contracts at approximately $22 per barrel of oil that will run out on March 31. The price is currently around $37 a barrel.

Vancouver-based TransLink, the short name of the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority, is the only public transportation company with a longer contract, which was set at between $23 and $24 per barrel until the end of this year.

TransLink has asked the government to put some or all of the 3.5 cents per litre raised in the GVRD back into public transportation, but was denied. However, it did receive another 0.5 cents per litre starting on March 1.

For the Whistler and Valley Express (WAVE), the expiration of their fuel futures contract at the end of the month will mean that the transit service will have to pay market prices for gasoline until prices have stabilized and B.C. Transit can negotiate a new contract on their behalf.

According to WAVE manager Scott Pass, the transit service uses approximately 912,000 litres of fuel each year, which means that the tax increase will cost the service approximately $32,000. That doesn’t include the growing cost of fuel and other rising expenses, such as insurance, parts and vehicle maintenance.

With the province freezing its contribution to transit at 2001-2002 levels for the next few years – and because the transit services are locked into a funding formula with the province that makes it impossible for municipality’s to increase their contribution – balancing the books next year means cutting service and finding efficiencies.

"Unless the status of the tax exemption changes, or the province decides to increase funding, we have to cut $32,000 from somewhere, and it’s likely going to have to come from service," says Pass.

After a decade of growth, 2002-2003 is the first fiscal year in which WAVE has been called upon to cut service. Because the transit service offers two levels of service, one for winter and one for summer, it has more flexibility than other transit services around the province.