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BASRAN: What the City of Kelowna is doing to restore public transit

Kelowna mayor Colin Basran
Image Credit: Contributed/City of Kelowna
November 18, 2016 - 1:18 PM

 


OPINION


Editor,

There have been calls by some for Kelowna City Council to “step up” and get involved in settling the current transit dispute. The City of Kelowna continues to urge First Canada and its employees to return to the table to resolve this disruption to our community and we continue to express our concerns to the province and BC Transit.

We completely understand our transit users’ frustration. People in each of these communities rely on public transit for essential, day-to-day activities – commuting to and from work, school, medical appointments, shopping and other important engagements.  For many, this is their only way to get around and we are sorry this essential service has been taken away.

I want to clarify how the system is organized so that people have a better understanding of responsibilities and how decisions are made.

The City of Kelowna, Regional District of Central Okanagan, District of Lake Country, City of West Kelowna, the District of Peachland and Westbank First Nation all have a contract with BC Transit, the provincial transit authority. BC Transit contracts the delivery of transit services in the Central Okanagan to a private operator, First Canada. This arrangement has allowed us to afford a rapidly growing transit system without a service disruption in 39 years

First Canada was selected through an open and transparent bidding process by BC Transit to provide transit services in the Central Okanagan. There are five years remaining on that contract.  First Canada provides transit service through similar agreements in 13 other municipalities/regional districts in the province.

First Canada then hires employees represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722 to operate the buses in the region. Those working for First Canada are not municipal nor provincial employees.

The total cost to operate the transit system in the Central Okanagan is approximately $20 million.  Half of that funding comes from the Provincial government, through BC Transit. The other half is split between the six municipal partners and transit users through the fares they pay. Revenues recover 30 per cent of transit operations, but this heavily subsidized program is worth funding for its many benefits to our communities.

Thanks to provincial funding, we have been able to grow transit service in this way since 1977. Yes, the municipal “partners” provide significant funding, but as the primary funder, BC Transit has final say in most decisions. More local autonomy and control over how and where the provincial funds are spent is something the municipal partners continue to advocate for. But setting up a regionally owned and operated transit service is not something the municipal partners are considering at this time, as it would require significant tax increases.

Mobility for our residents is a necessity, but Kelowna City Council does not have the authority to deem transit an essential service, nor can it order drivers back to work or appoint a mediator.  These legislative authorities all rest with the provincial government. The municipal partners are also not involved in the ongoing contract negotiations between First Canada and the Union because, as mentioned earlier, these are not municipal employees.

Local governments share the funding for local administration of the service, including scheduling, bus stops and promotion campaigns.

So what is the City of Kelowna doing to help restore transit service to its residents?  We are putting pressure on First Canada and its employees to get back to negotiations and reach a resolution as soon as possible.  I have requested an appointment to speak with Transportation Minister Todd Stone about our concerns, and the City has been in daily contact with BC Transit officials, urging them to pressure both First Canada and its employees to help end this stalemate.

Kelowna City Council has suggested that transit service should be made an essential service in the hopes that some high-volume routes can be restored while negotiations are ongoing.

The City of Kelowna will continue to do whatever it can, in our capacity as a regional partner in this system, to help bring about an end to this labour dispute.

There are no winners in a situation like this. This is certainly not something we want to see happen or continue for a long period of time. Kelowna City Council has promoted transit in good faith and for good reasons. Within the capacity we have as a municipal government, and in partnership with the Province we will continue to invest in making transit more accessible for all residents.

Until transit service resumes, this is an opportunity for our community to come together and help one another. We all have a responsibility to find a way to help those impacted the most.

On a personal note, I have two young children that I hope won’t need to own cars when they grow up. I want them to become regular users of our transit and active transportation system.

The longer this job action continues, the harder it will be to win back the ridership we have grown year after year, with the cooperation of all involved. Again, I urge First Canada and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1722, please get back to negotiating and resolve this issue for the betterment of all.

Sincerely,

Colin Basran


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