“People need to get out of their cars. As the price of gas goes up and the climate crisis gets worse- it is inevitable, we need to start now to build alternatives to the largest greenhouse gas contributor- individual cars”. Peter Luckham, chairperson of the Islands Trust which just declared a climate emergency, made this (paraphrased) statement at the community bus forum held April 6 and 7 , on Gabriola Island.
Organizers of community bus systems on the gulf islands give other reasons to build local transportation systems:
- Make it more affordable for people, especially young people, to move here.
- Assure our aging population that they will not have to leave once they do not drive.
- Improve health determinants such as social isolation, poverty and mobility issues.
- Increase social inclusion in recreation and community events.
- Connect people, both residents and visitors, to the ferry system.
The story of each of the existing community bus systems is unique.
GERTIE (Gabriola Environmentally Responsible Trans-Isle Express) began as a ratepayers “climate change” initiative, then as a “stand alone” project which was supported by the Regional District of Nanaimo and received larger grants such as the federal gas tax, and rural dividend grants. In 2013, organizers formed their own Gabriola Community Bus Foundation which manages the bus system. GERTIE has used bio-diesel fuel (50/50) since inception, is now able to pay drivers $20/hour (formerly all volunteer) and has a mobile phone system with an interactive map “Where’s Gertie?” GERTIE recently won a local referendum, and now receives property tax funding through the regional district. Claire Trevena, current Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, cites GERTIE as a model for other communities.
Pender Island has just completed a 2.5 year pilot project and hope to go soon to referendum for on-going tax funds. The community named the bus “Bussa Nova”. Their fares are by donation, and they rent the bus for charters. They have one coordinator (paid $400) month, and 14 volunteer drivers who are paid by honorarium. They have an on-line tracking system and passenger log.
The Saturna Shuttle has been run by the Lions Club since 2013, even though a BC Transit Study said residents could not support a system. They run on a text/call if you need a lift with a 24 hour notice system. Their vehicles have an exemption from the Passenger Transport Board because they run by donations and do not compete with commercial operators. Cortes Island would like to partner with neighbouring Quadra Island for a community bus, for the benefit of both islands. On Galiano Island, the primary ridership is visitors rather than locals. They encourage people to pay ahead and thus access an income tax credit.
What about here on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake?
Laverne Booth of Crawford Bay attended the forum through a Zoom call, and reports the following:
“ I found out that our older vehicle, a 2001 Ford diesel 11 passenger van, purchased from Valley Services in Creston, is not unusual. Even GERTIE, now relatively well funded with tax dollars, is not able to buy new vehicles yet. Each of the bus systems that attended the community bus forum developed uniquely, depending on their location and population. Each community needed volunteer champions to get the system off the ground. Volunteer drivers are supported in various ways- paying for the annual medical fee, in some cases supporting training to get the class IV license, and paying an honorarium to drivers.
Most systems needed support by local community service organizations to get going, and eventually did form their own society or charitable organization. I was glad to attend this forum and hear the experience of others- GERTIE is going to share their application for charitable status with us. This is going to be a critical step for us, as we do not have a local charity that can sponsor applications for funding.
What is next?
The East Shore is soon to have a visit with BC Transit. Thanks to Director Garry Jackman for his determined efforts on our behalf. It is really important that we all attend this meeting, and in particular, interest groups such as youth, seniors, health, school, businesses. Keep posted for date and time!
As Tom Dool, Research Analyst of the Regional District of Central Kootenay writes “The challenge is that the northern part of Area A is part of the West Kootenay Transit Service, the central part has no transit service, and the very southern portion is served by Creston Valley Transit. BC Transit and the RDCK would like to come to the East Shore later in the spring and meet with stakeholders to see if there was interest in establishing a more robust and sustainable service.”
We have our particular challenges, as do other areas in BC- for example in the Port Hardy, Port McNeil area in the north, a new regional partnership is looking hopeful where the service seems to be paid – one-third by BC Transit (which is a crown corporation), one-third by provincial health care region, and one-third by local government and fares. What can we propose for the East Shore that would work for us?
Coming out of the Community Bus Forum is a coordination group that will share information and together look for a dedicated provincial wide staff person to develop policy frameworks for ways to work with BC Transit, find out how many rural people are not served by provincial/regional bus service and suggest collaborative ways to get better service. Perhaps ask BC Transit to provide and service buses so as to get more robust vehicles, and also to look for a different regulatory system that is not public, nor private but rather for community owned and managed systems.