A road winds through heavily treed hills

SRD Board: Proposed Campbell River to West Vancouver Island Transit Service

At their February 8th meeting, the SRD Board voted to continue examining the feasibility of a transit service from Campbell River to the West Coast of Vancouver Island. 

It has been a year since staff was first instructed to pursue the matter.

Senior Manager Thomas Yates explained, “We’ve got two alternatives recommended for the board’s consideration. Option A is to look at one or more of the service levels that we’ve identified in the report, and they range from everything from twice a day to once a month in terms of the frequency of service. Option B would be, of course, that we drop this whole matter and not look into it further.”

Screenshot of Senior Manager Thomas Yates (l) and Chair Mark Baker taken from video of Nov 23 Board Meeting

Mayor Martin Davis of Tahsis was having difficulties with his audio, but texted that he supports the idea of a weekly service.

Mayor Julie Colborne of Tahsis added,  “I think that  for people coming out to remote communities, most of your travel is used to running on a pay schedule when you go to town. I would move that a further report to examine potential operation models and possible service partnerships, based on service level D and E be prepared for the board’s consideration, and I would speak to that if there was a seconder.”

Service levels D and E called for weekly or bi-weekly trips, respectively. The buses would be based in Campbell River and return home every night. To offset the cost, an estimated annual tax assessment of $9.95 for weekly service, or $6.61 bi-weekly, would be levied on the property owners of Gold River, Sayward, Tahsis, Zeballos, Campbell River, Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Che:k’tles7et’h’ First Nations, Electoral Area A and that part of Electoral Area D served by Highway 28.

Property owners on Cortes and Quadra Islands, as well as the more remote communities of Area C, are separated from the service area by ocean and would not be taxed. 

“I’ll second that,” said Robyn Mawhinney, Regional Director for Area C.

Colborne continued, “I think  weekly, or biweekly, is sufficient. I would also be really interested in hearing what kind of dollar amounts would be expected from ridership if this was going to go forward.”

Regional Director Gerald Whalley, of Area A, responded, “I have an amendment. My amendment is to add the words ‘and that Electoral Areas A and D be removed as participants in the proposed transportation service.’ If I have a second here, I’ll speak to that.”

John Rice, the Director for Area D, seconded Whalley’s motion.

Whalley explained, “As for area A, I can speak more specifically to that.

We won’t be participating in this service. We have many reasons why. I’ll just give you three here. One, we already have a very successful delivery service from Campbell River to Sayward. We already have a transportation van for people from Sayward to Campbell River and back. We already have a free prescription delivery service from Campbell River, so we don’t need to be involved in paying for another service. We fully look after ourselves, so I would really appreciate it if the board would treat Areas A and D in the same category as B and C, that are already exempted from this service, and exclude us.” 

Tahsis is one of the five municipalities within Area A, but once his technical issues were overcome, Mayor Martin Davis said, “I have been advocating for this service from the start. It would be a huge boon to our community. We have a high retirement population here and a lot of them aren’t able to travel this road in the winter because of  the hazards with snow and all that. I know it would get a good subscription in this area.”

“I know some communities may not feel like this is worthy of being taxed on, particularly Campbell River, but we do all use Campbell River for services, whether it be hospital, grocery shopping, those sort of things. We contribute a lot of money to that area. So I just want people to be cognizant that all our small communities support Campbell River and this is a reason for increasing access between them.”

In addition to being Chair, Mark Baker is also the mayor of one of the communities within Area A: Sayward. 

“I would say for the village of Sayward we’d be ‘in,’ even if we do have the age-friendly service, but that runs at certain times when volunteers are available, not always.”

“The question I have, if people from the north can actually hop on this from North Island – wherever that is – come to Campbell River and come to area D as well, tourism or shopping and so on. I don’t see how this is a service that does not benefit the region.” 

Director Rice explained, “What I was going to point out to the directors is that it’s not that I’m opposed to a transportation program, I’m opposed to the way it’s only targeting about 50 residents in Area D. This could be a fairly expensive service that you’re asking area D to basically up the taxes on about 50 residents. If it was spread out over a greater area of Area D, I’m not arguing whether Area D would benefit or not, but I think that would be more palatable.”

“The other concern that I have is that a portion of those homes that are in that area are recreational properties. I don’t think it’s fair they’re paying  a taxation on transportation when, again, those properties are used for recreation.” 

He also questioned the project’s viability, “ It would be interesting to see what the ridership buy-in would be. When I read the report, it seemed like the people who would use the service weren’t thrilled with paying for it. 21% of the people were willing to pay $6 to $10 per trip. 27% of the people were willing to pay $16 to $25 per trip. I believe there was another number there, with 20% willing to pay even lower. The funds for this project are going to come, most likely out of taxation. So I think we need to choose wisely.”

This was a theme that Whalley elaborated on at a couple of points during the meeting: 

“ … We already had  a private service from Sayward to Campbell River and back.  A gentleman spent a considerable amount of money, had a very nice van, charged a small fee for people to use. It quickly went bankrupt because it didn’t have any ridership.” 

“ … Greyhound used to have a service from Gold River and obviously it wasn’t viable and they discontinued it. Not enough ridership, couldn’t pay for it. It’ll be the same thing with this.”

Mayor Davis disagreed, “I would argue that citizens in those areas may actually be interested in this service and I don’t believe Director Whalley is correct in presupposing that everybody is opposed to that. If we get the service going, I think it will grow in popularity and people will find it a cost effective solution for them.” 

Zeballos is also inside Area A, and Mayor Colborne added, “I won’t be in favor of the amendment, because these are quite large areas. I know that there are other services that do exist. However, I don’t know how you can enable someone getting on that service  if this is an extra service to say, ‘no, sorry, your area didn’t participate in this, so you can’t ride.’ It doesn’t make sense.” 

Whalley replied, “I’m not saying that my residents couldn’t ride.  I’m sure there’s a fee to ride and if the municipalities want to accept additional fee paying passengers, why not? I have no prohibitions on anything.  It’s just that Area A,  as a electoral area, doesn’t want to be a participant in the service. It doesn’t mean that my residents can’t ride if you’re willing to let them board the bus.”

While part of Ka:’yu:’k’t’h’/Che:k’tles7et’h'(Kyoo quot chek wasett) First Nations territory is within Area A, Kyuquot is outside of it. Director Kevin Jules wanted to know, “If Area A is taken off, does that mean Kyuquot is taken off?”

Chair Baker responded, “Yes.”

Chief Administrative Officer Leitch said, “I’m going to say no, actually.” 

Yates identified the key issue, “Would the regional district actually run buses through Electoral Area A, if that area is not participating whatsoever in the service?  There may be a difference between participating in the service, and where the buses are actually running within the service area.”

Campbell River Director Doug Chapman asked, “With the proposed amendment, if it goes through, who are the participating areas remaining? 

Chair Mark Baker asked Leitch, “That would be everybody in the Strathcona Regional District other than the electoral areas, correct?” 

“Correct,” said Leitch. 

This prompted Campbell River Mayor Kermit to ask, “The question asked was  who was going to fund this and you said everybody but electoral areas A and D.” 

Leitch clarified this, “ … and B and C. When it originally came to the board,  areas B and C had opted out because of their their physical distance in the water gap, if you will. We were talking about a transportation, so the board deemed it reasonable that it would be everybody but B and C.  In this amendment we have A and D. So now we’re talking about just the municipalities that would be financially contributing to this,  if the board passes that amendment.” 

Dahl said “So Campbell River would be contributing to this?” 

“Absolutely, yes.”

Dahl responded, “I just wanted to say that I don’t like it at all. I don’t see much of anything for the residential taxpayers of Campbell River for this at all. I hear people saying how good, how heavy the use would be, but if it was that good, there would be somebody in the open market that’d be willing to provide this service. Apparently there isn’t. And I question how the taxpayers of Campbell River benefit from it. I own a business in Campbell River and I do a lot of business with people from outside of Campbell River.”

“Many of the people that are here have done business at my shop, but the fact that they do something at my shop doesn’t help  my 13 employees  necessarily pay their taxes. I have some serious reservations on supporting this  and am having a hard time seeing how this shouldn’t have been an electoral area decision and supported by them and not a request at all to the city.” 

Two of the other Campbell River Directors spoke. 

Ron Kerr said, “In principle,  it sounds like a great thing and I understand there’s shopping done in Campbell River.  It’s to our citizen’s advantage, at least our businesses perhaps but:

  • Until you know the actual costs that we’re talking about, 
  • When you have the expectation that Campbell River,  I think we pay 70% or more, is going to pick up  the burden in this. 
  • When you’ve got different electoral areas that are cherry picking services. 

I think if it’s good for one, it’s good for everyone.”

Susan Sinnott added, “I’m not in favour of the amendment for exactly what director Kerr mentions. I think we’re a little bit too premature. We can do the reporting, get the idea of the individual costs and decide whether or not there is any issue. From when I look at the maps, there’s some benefit that people may want to only go part of the route into the Sayward area from the other areas. We haven’t really discussed cargo and because I’ve been heavily involved in transportation, I know there’s money there. This may not be as much of a money loser as you think.”

Realizing that most of the board seemed to be opposing his amendment, Whalley said,  “I don’t think it’s appropriate or fair to force areas into a service that they don’t want to join.  I just don’t think that’s appropriate. So if you vote against my amendment, then you leave me no choice but to call the provincial service review and have a big fight over it. I don’t want to do that. I think you should respect the independence of electoral areas. If they want to join, let them join. If they don’t, let them exempt themselves.”  

Yates replied, “Just so we’re clear, this is really about further investigation into this proposal. The board is not being asked at this point to confirm who is in, or who is out. That point would come if the board says, ‘we like the service, we want a bylaw to be drafted to establish a service. Then the board can say, these are the areas we want in. These are the areas that should be out.’” 

At which point Whalley said, “Not to belabour this point but if we’re in now, it’ll affect the calculation of the costs. If we’re out tomorrow, it’ll affect the calculation of the costs. Why not calculate the costs correctly where we’re not in, both myself and area D? You’ll have accurate costs that way, and we’ll look after it right at the beginning.” 

When the vote on Whalley’s resolution was called, the Regional Directors from Cortes Island, Area C and Area D supported him. Only four of the five municipalities within Area A were present, but they were all opposed, as were all six Directors from Campbell River.  

“That’s 10 opposed; four in favor. The amendment is defeated and now we’ll go to the main motion,” said Chair Baker.

This was to decide whether staff should examine the feasibility of a weekly, or bi-weekly, transit service from Campbell River to the West Coast of Vancouver Island.  

Ten directors voted in favour of the motion. Regional Directors Mawhinney, Rice and Vonesch were among them. Three of the six Campbell River Directors joined Whalley to vote in opposition. 

Chair Baker tallied up the votes, “Four opposed, everybody else in favour.  10 in favour. So the motion is carried.”

Top image credit: Road connecting Campbell River with the West Coast of Vancouver Island – Image taken from SRD Transportation survey

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