Saanich council will lend its support to the evolution of public transit in the region by calling on the province to increase funding for the Victoria Regional Transit Commission (VRTC).
On Jan. 18, councillors unanimously agreed to write to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to ask that the VRTC’s 2021 budget requests be approved along with additional funding to adequately support the 10-year plan.
The VRTC approved its 10-year vision document in November 2020. It outlines key goals including expanding service, deploying electric buses and constructing a new Uptown Exchange. Council approved a motion by Coun. Nathalie Chambers to support the funding requests because expanding and improving transit service within the region is necessary for the municipality to meet its climate targets.
According to a presentation by Rebecca Newlove, Saanich manager of sustainability, transportation accounts for the majority of the district’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – most of which comes from personal vehicles – so residents should be encouraged to transition to active transportation and transit.
Saanich declared a climate emergency in 2019 and adopted a climate plan in January 2020 which outlined goals to reduce the community’s GHG emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 and transition to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050. This, Newlove explained, would require all buses being electrified by 2030 and an increase in trips taken via public transit from nine per cent to 20 per cent by 2050.
BC Transit staff members also attended the council meeting virtually and explained that COVID-19 has dealt BC Transit a significant blow. Ridership – and therefore fares – declined nearly 80 per cent in March 2020. While there has been a gradual increase since then, ridership has not returned to pre-pandemic numbers.
Mayor Fred Haynes also pointed out that as electric vehicles become more popular, revenue from the gas tax – 5.5 cents per litre from every fuel purchase in the Victoria regional transit service area – will go down significantly.
Currently, 32 per cent of BC Transit’s system is funded by the province and the other 68 per cent comes from the fuel tax, property taxes, fares and advertising revenue. As revenue from the gas tax drops, replacement funds will be needed and could be reflected in property taxes or higher bus fares, he said.
On behalf of Saanich, Haynes will write to Rob Fleming, minister of transportation and infrastructure, to declare Saanich’s support for the VRTC’s funding requests for transit service expansion and infrastructure in 2021 and over the next 10 years.