A petition calling on B.C. Transit to turn over the running of the Central Okanagan bus system to local government is just the start of a drive for change.

It was started four weeks ago by Kirstin Pulles, a UBC Okanagan masters student in Community Engagement, Social Change and Equity and a founding member of Free Transit Ottawa. The petition had collected around 600 signatures as of Friday afternoon.

“It’s something we knew we weren’t going to win this time around but a good time to get people mobilized is around a deadline,” Pulles told iNFOnews.ca. “We started this petition now because there is a deadline. People get excited about it. The conversation gets really active and we use this momentum to push toward that next deadline, knowing it will take quite a bit of time to make any changes.”

The operating contract for the Central Okanagan system is for nine years with the possibility of extensions for up to 15 years. The operator is First Transit, which has now been bought by Transdev Group. Transdev is a France-based international private-sector company which operates public transport.

The first nine years of the contract is up on March 31. Pulles expected it to be renewed for three years but B.C. Transit told iNFOnews.ca in an email it's been extended for only one year.

“Which points to the fact they’re probably not very happy with First Transit,” Pulled said.

Last fall, the union representing transit workers in the Central Okanagan went on strike for one day and forced an arbitrated settlement with First Transit.

READ MORE: One day Central Okanagan transit strike as both sides head to arbitration

At that time, the Amalgamated Transit Union called for B.C. Transit to take over operation of the transit system.

That’s not the model Pulles is proposing.

“B.C. Transit is a really big organization,” she said. “It’s provincial. It’s so far removed from us, (the people) actually using the system.”

She pointed to the Victoria regional transit system which has a governing body made up of municipal politicians. She says it has the best service for a city its size in Canada and one with the lowest costs.

“Kelowna is one of the worst performing regions in B.C. in terms of people’s regular use of the system or happiness with the system,” Pulles said. But it’s not just how the system is governed that’s of concern to her.

“The other frustrating thing with the model right now is they have these, potentially, 15-year operating contracts with a minimum of nine years,” Pulles said. “They have no mechanisms built in to penalize or reward based on service. So, for nine years, all they’re required to do is report. What an insane model: ‘Here you go. You can manage our transit for nine years. Do what you want.’ It’s clearly not working.”

Her next step is, working with others, to meet with local users and draft a few suggestions for some simple improvements that can be made to the system then to lobby local councils and B.C. Transit to not only make those changes but to turn over management to local government.

Pulles will not be taking up the cry for free transit that she lobbied for in Ottawa because that was a much more expensive transit system.

“I don’t think it’s cost here,” she said. “It’s just reliability and accessibility.”

You can find the online petition here.

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