The District of Squamish (DOS) last week received some good news on the transit front that could lighten the load on municipal taxpayers in 2013.
The latest cost projections from B.C. Transit pegged the local government’s share of the cost of hoped-for Squamish Transit service upgrades this year at $119,200, less than half the budgeted amount of $244,700, director of municipal infrastructure Jenni Chancey told council at its March 12 budget workshop.
The savings would trim the projected municipal property tax increase, currently 8.8 per cent if draft budgetary changes tentatively agreed to by council to date are part of the final budget, by 0.75 per cent, said Joanne Greenlees, DOS manager of finance. That would reduce the hike to just over eight per cent.
Last July, council agreed to pursue the extension of evening service, the addition of service on Sundays and statutory holidays and the addition of a new route linking the Tantalus Road area to downtown, Chancey said.
“These three service improvements were recommended as having the greatest potential to increase ridership,” she said. It’s projected that the Tantalus Road-downtown route will add 31,000 annual trips to Squamish Transit’s ridership, she said.
“I think moving people is the best economic driver that a community can have,” said Coun. Susan Chapelle, chair of the DOS transit standing committee. “Giving low-income people and others the chance to ride transit, especially in miserable weather, to get to work or elsewhere, is a big bang for your buck.”
Coun. Doug Race said that if the upgrades are implemented, the district needs to ensure that there’s ample promotion and monitoring of ridership to ensure that the service is cost-effective.
“If we committed to this for two years, could we back out of it at that point? Can we just give the bus back, or are we stuck with it over a longer period of time?” he asked.
Chancey said she believed the commitment to a new bus is for three years.
Coun. Ron Sander said that while he realizes the district needs to commit to the upgrades for a period that’s sufficient to build ridership numbers, it’s important that the figures be monitored periodically and the service re-evaluated.
“I’d like to see us somehow structure a trial period of, say, two years, where we look at it again, and not just have a bus driving around town empty,” he said.