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Spiralling transit costs are major concern

Ashcroft Council will seek meeting with Minister of Transportation over transit costs

The Ashcroft Village Council will seek a meeting with Hon. Blair Lekstrom, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure at the UBCM convention in September to discuss concerns which have arisen in the spiralling costs of operating the Ashcroft-Cache Creek-Clinton Transit Service, with invitations to the Cache Creek and Clinton councils to join with them in their presentation.

A report on the Joint Operating Agreement prepared by the Ashcroft CAO, Michelle Allen, was on the agenda at the July 25th meeting of the Ashcroft Council, and yet to be seen by Cache Creek and Clinton Councils, in which Allen noted that “a number of hiccups have occurred over the years” in the operation of the service.

“The service is fast becoming unaffordable and unsustainable to the communities,” she reported, and the concerns need to be addressed.

The service which came into being in January of 2008 is managed by the Village of Ashcroft, an arrangement that was set up with BC Transit through Tom Clement, the CAO at the time, has resulted in a heavy workload for the staff at the Ashcroft Village office as well as a fast growing financial burden to the taxpayers if the three villages.

“It soon became clear that the Village of Ashcroft had a much larger role to play in the operation of the system.  The fares and ridership numbers are collected on a weekly basis and the information remitted to BC Transit at the end of each month.

“BC Transit invoices the Village each month.  We in turn apply the revenues received, split the remaining costs equally and invoice the other two communities, Cache Creek and Clinton.”

Both the partnering villages are paid up to date, she said, “however the actual agreement is with Ashcroft and ultimately, we are responsible for the liability (of the service).”

Allen also noted that it had recently come to light that the BC Transit agreement also includes the Healthy Connections bus that travels between Lillooet and Kamloops two times a week.

Interior Health provides a $50,000 contribution towards the operation of the service, Allen reported, which does not cover the actual operating costs. “We receive the revenues from the service but we are responsible for the costs incurred.”

Alhough Lillooet people use the service, Lillooet is not part of the agreement.

Also included in the “hiccups” outlined by Allen, is a number of problems with operation and scheduling of the service which has been contracted to Mile-O-Taxi in Lillooet.

“They are responsible to ensure that drivers are available to operate the two buses as well as establish a work schedule. But retention of regular drivers has been a challenge for both routes,” Allen said.

“However, the local transit bus currently has a driver who has indicated they wish to stay here.”

The operating budget has been prepared by BC Transit and provided to the Villages on an annual basis. “However, this year they provided a three year budget and this is the budget that is used when the Villages prepare their five year financial plan.

“The three year budget brought to light the fact that the buses are scheduled for replacement in 2013/14 which results in a debt servicing of $70,000 per year, a $10,000 per year increase to the current $11,500 for each Village “so our financial commitment would virtually double.”

Comparing the budget to actual figures can be challenging, Allen reported, as the Province’s fiscal year differs from local governments.

At a meeting of the Transit Committee held in Clinton last spring, concern was expressed about the sustainability of the service if the cost per community doubles.

In a letter to Michelle Allen, Regional Transit Manager Steve Harvard said, “Through a combination of provincial funding and BC Transit’s shared services model, the local government’s contribution for public transit remains the lowest in Canada.

“The average municipal per capita operating contribution for BC Transit operating systems is $33 versus the average Canadian municipal per capita contribution that is $96.

“Through the benefits of a shared services model,” Harvard continued, “We can provide the benefits of public service transit services in smaller communities that would not otherwise be able to afford it under traditional funding and service models found in other provinces.”