Rising costs of the community bus are causing Cache Creek Council to think about getting off at the next stop.
Regional manager for BC Transit, Steve Harvard, attended council meetings in both Cache Creek and Ashcroft this month to update councils on the operations and budgets of the service.
“Last year, revenue was significantly higher,” Harvard told them, “but so were expenses.”
He said two large items pushed up costs, including an unanticipated engine failure and rising gas prices.
The local service includes scheduled trips among partners Cache Creek, Ashcroft and Clinton as well as trips to Kamloops on Tuesdays and Thursdays as Interior Health’s Health Connections Bus (HCB).
Interior Health pays $50,000 per year to BC Transit for that local service. Harvard said they are negotiating with IH for more money because what was supposed to be a free service is now costing BC Transit and the local municipalities.
“When did Interior Health get into this?” asked Coun. Ida Makaro. “All of a sudden they started to appear on our invoices.”
She expressed anger that the Village’s most recent quarterly invoice was for $6,625. Multiplied by four meant an annual gudget of over $20,000.
When the service began three years ago, the three partners were paying half that.
Harvard explained that the $70,000 engine replacement was factored into that invoice.
“You won’t see another hit like that as far as engine’s are concerned,” he said.
“So there’s no guarantee what the costs are going to be” under the BC Transit agreement, said Coun. Wyatt McMurray. “They are what they are.”
Mayor John Ranta reviewed the service’s proposed three-year budget and noted “significant increases”.
“I’m apprehensive about the future of this service if these are the cost increases we’re facing,” he said.
Council asked about the agreement’s cancellation clause, but did not pursue that option. Harvard said he thought the agreement required six months notice.
Harvard admitted that the budget he’d brought with him was a bit confusing because it did not include the annual $50,000 from Interior Health and it wasn’t clear on sorting out BC Transit’s contribution. He promised to send the Village a clearer budget.
At Ashcroft’s meeting, Coun. Colin Williams asked Harvard where he saw the budget in three years’ time.
“I see it moving up,” said Harvard, “to $73,000.”
That would be divided three ways, equally among the three municipalities.
Ashcroft Administrator Michelle Allen said that figure was around $45,000 this year.
“That $73,000 is based on a number of assumptions,” said Harvard, “such as no increase in IH’s contribution or in fares.”
Allen pointed out that the scheduled part of the service was holding its own financially. “It’s the Health Connections Bus that is going over budget.”
“If the IH wants to stay in the service,” said Harvard, “they’re going to have to re-look at their contribution.”