Local governments, First Nations continue to lobby for Sea-to-Sky regional bus

Credit to Author: Jennifer Saltman| Date: Sun, 12 Jan 2020 20:05:02 +0000

Communities and First Nations in the Sea-to-Sky corridor are planning to continue their push for a regional bus route after the provincial government rejected their funding proposal last year.

The concept of a bus service that connects Mount Currie, east of Pemberton, to Metro Vancouver is one that has been around for many years, but a regional corridor study completed by B.C. Transit in 2017 got the ball rolling.

The proposed service would initially require eight buses and 15,100 annual service hours, providing about six weekday round trips between Whistler/Squamish and Metro Vancouver, and another two daily round trips on the existing route linking Pemberton and Whistler.

The initial estimated cost for the route is $3.31 million, including up to $1.9 million from local governments and $1.41 million from the province for operating costs.

Local government officials believe the benefits for those who live and work along the Sea-to-Sky corridor are many.

“This is about keeping people from hitchhiking, getting people connected to family, to medical appointments. It’s about economic mobility, connecting people to their work, and making life more affordable,” said Squamish Mayor Karen Elliott.

Lil’wat Nation chief operations officer Ernest Armann said transportation is an essential service for rural and remote communities like his.

Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton, the Squamish Nation, Lil’wat Nation and the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District formed a committee and came up with a plan to fund their portion of the project using fares, property taxes and a 2.5-cent motor-vehicle fuel tax.

Their goal was to have the service up and running by last fall.

The funding formula, however, was not well received by the provincial Ministry of Transportation, which told the group that a fuel tax was not in the cards because it is a declining revenue source, and encouraged them to be more “creative.”

Community leaders say the problem is that it’s difficult for municipalities and regional districts to be creative when they have few funding mechanisms at their disposal, primarily property taxes and fare revenue.

“We have no other authority with which to raise money, which is why when the government asked us to get creative, we pushed back a little and said do you have some creative solutions in the short term, because you have more levers with which to raise revenues for regional transit,” Elliott said.


First Nations have even fewer options because they don’t have taxation authority on their own lands, said Armann.

“It’s pretty hard to be considered an equal partner when you don’t bring money to the table, don’t make any real decisions, and that’s a bit of a challenge,” said Armann, who said the gas tax would be one way his community could contribute.

“When I really look at this whole situation, this reconciliation, recognition of title, that’s really the big question that’s maybe going to help. But, I don’t see that happening for the short term. It’s going to be a lot of work.”

The small Sea-to-Sky communities are reluctant to increase property taxes any more than proposed, because they don’t think it’s a fair way to pay for transit. A gas tax would not only be collected from residents, it would also take in money from tourists who come through the area on Highway 99.

“It’s the vehicles that we want to tax, not the houses and homes,” said Squamish-Lillooet Regional District chair Tony Rainbow. “We don’t think there is a major political problem in putting this in place.”

Elliott said if the district were to raise property taxes to fund transit, they would want the money to pay for better local service.

“I don’t think that our communities, being small, can withstand the property tax increase that would be required to fully fund a regional system in the short term as well as a more robust internal system,” she said.

Committee members realize that with people trying to drive less and the adoption of electric cars, gas tax is a declining revenue source, but it would put buses on the road in the short term, and give them time to come up with another way to pay for transit when the times comes.

“The Sea-to-Sky corridor is a relatively small region as it relates to population. We know that the motor fuel tax works well in the Lower Mainland,” said Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton. “Absolutely this is a transitional funding source.”

Community leaders have found the process of establishing a bus route disappointing, particularly when it comes to dealing with the provincial government.

“In terms of how the process has gone at a local level, I’m very very pleased. We’ve got six communities that have come together, including two First Nations, with a common goal, a common mission. The level of collaboration has been outstanding,” said Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman.

“In terms of the process at the provincial level, I’m definitely a little more frustrated.”

However, they are determined to keep seeking meetings with Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena and Premier John Horgan to get a regional route as soon as possible.

“Honestly, I don’t see us relenting. We’ve put forward a model that’s inclusive of all the partners, that we think is fair and we think will get us where we need to go for the next five years,” said Richman. “I’m not willing to quit pushing at this point.”

In an emailed statement, the Ministry of Transportation said senior officials from B.C. Transit and the ministry have met with local governments numerous times over the past year and suggested “a number of options” for funding a regional transit system, although it did not go into detail about the options.

“Discussions between the province and local partners on how to best fund the regional transit service will continue,” the ministry said.



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