The regional district board endorsed the Terms of Reference for the 2013 South Okanagan – Similkameen Transit Future study at the December 20 board meeting.
BC Transit, collaborating with the RDOS, will be conducting a 25 year transit future plan for the entire region in 2013. The plan is intended to provide a vision for future transit needs in the area in addition to laying out the requirements necessary to get there.
Senior Regional Transit Manager Steve Harvard and Community Services Manager Mark Woods outlined to the board the methodology BC Transit intended to use in conducting the study, noting that one of the first items on the agenda was to find out what local communities wanted in terms of a future transit service.
“We’ll embark on an initial public consultation process, where we’ll be going out to the individual communities and asking for their input to get base information as to what currently exists, but also to find out what is important (for transit needs) to that community.”
Harvard also stated that the initial public consultation would be repeated after presenting the results to the board.
“Basically, what we will say is, we came, we listened, did we hear what you said?” Harvard said the second public consultation would act as a reaffirmation that they had heard the community’s concerns correctly.
A working committee consisting of regional district and BC Transit staff will be set up as part of the process. First public consultations are expected to begin in the spring, with the second round slated to take place in the fall.
Area “D” Director Tom Siddon noted that a recommendation to establish a new transit service in Area “D”, encircling Skaha Lake, had come about as a result of a transit service review for the local area around Penticton in 2012.
Siddon noted that Area “D” had a high dissatisfaction rate regarding current levels of transit service during a recent citizen survey. He made the point that Area “D” should be considered, for transit purposes, a suburb of Penticton rather than being grouped in with South Okanagan transit issues.
Noting also that the high level of dissatisfaction over transit was being expressed in the area because there essentially wasn’t any, he added that many of the residents in the area were seniors who were less and less inclined to drive.
“In this study, we have to make a special effort to pay attention to this,” he said.
Siddon also questioned BC Transit’s idea of “local partners” noting that unincorporated communities like Okanagan Falls and Kaleden might not have a voice in the study, depending on the definition of the phrase.
Harvard responded that the BC Transit would be looking to the regional district to provide recommendations as to who local partners should be.
The desire for local input was also expressed as a necessary component for a successful plan in the Similkameen. Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer noted that the Lower Similkameen presently only had a shuttle bus providing limited transit to the area.
“If we want to find out what demand there is, it’s not just checking out how that shuttle bus is used – we have to go to Cawston, go to the trailer parks, maybe talk to parent’s advisory committees at the school, because they are shuttling their kids to various activities, so those are all target groups to speak to. We also have a large seniors population that doesn’t like to drive in winter conditions. In summer, you have transient labour and farm workers, so a special kind of focus on something that isn’t right out there – you have to look at this in a different way.” Bauer requested that BC Transit approach the Similkameen’s issues on a parallel basis to those of Area “D”s.
CAO Bill Newell questioned whether the feasibility of a potential transit service was based on cost analysis, to which Harvard answered that there were no firm numbers – rather, a request for service was based on analysis as to whether it made sense or not. Newell also expressed conerns about advancing a transit service, only to see it not come to fruition, or fail.
“How do we not disappoint people in the process?” he asked.
“I think it’s unfortunate that there will always be some people disappointed but I think that’s a matter of reality.” He added that levels of service would have to ultimately be decided by everybody at the table.
“These are all the choices you have available, these are all the costs,” Harvard said in summarizing the final decision. “What can you afford and what makes sense? And what maybe is a good idea might just be a little too early, and maybe needs a few more years to develop. Those are the things that have to be decided, and that’s why this is a long range plan.”