Bus riders, taxpayers and commuters stuck in traffic jams have a right to wonder what is going on with the transit in this region.
Five years ago, the Victoria Regional Transit Commission and B.C. Transit announced they would spend up to $3 million on a system that would help buses speed through traffic by letting them extend green lights. It would cut travel time, lure more riders and save big money in fuel costs. The system was supposed to be working by the fall of 2006.
The project has been bungled, with no clear explanation. Delays have dragged on so long that the equipment never used is too old and has to be replaced.
The project, part of a larger busway plan, fell through the cracks, transit officials say.
The failure is costly. Start with the money lost buying equipment that was never used. Then add the lost fuel savings from the technology, which was forecast at $1.5 million a year thats $7.5 million in unnecessary spending since the supposed launch date.
Then consider the lost benefits. The system was supposed to cut travel time and make bus use more attractive. That would have increased B.C. Transit revenues and cut traffic congestion for all drivers.
Regional transit commission chairman Chris Causton says hes interested in getting a new system in place, rather than in assigning blame for the failure.
But the public needs to know how this could happen, and what changes must be made to ensure it doesnt happen again. Certainly any support for a big investment in LRT will require assurances of competence from those managing the transit system.
The failure is part of a broader pattern. The commission announced in 2007 it had secured $5 million in federal gas-tax funding to develop busways along the Douglas Street corridor, with work to start in 2008. The plan ran into opposition from businesses and stalled. But the money could have been used for bus lanes along the Trans-Canada to reduce travel times during rush hour and attract more riders.
The problems dont rest with the commission alone. In January 2008, for example, then-premier Gordon Campbell announced the government would provide $1.2 billion for RapidBus service in the capital region, Vancouver and Kelowna. The promised money, which could have chopped travel times and improved service, was never delivered.
And the entire approach to transportation, including the project to adjust traffic lights for faster bus travel, has been plagued by the need to work with the regions many municipalities on even the simplest of efforts.
This is not just a local issue. Mayors from across B.C. met Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom this week to seek an independent review of B.C. Transit and the role of regional transit commissions. They complained the Crown corporation is not accountable, imposes excessive costs and is not providing the expected service. They are also seeking a review of the way transit is funded.
Tensions are natural. But the widespread dissatisfaction and the obvious dysfunction in this region should prompt swift action.
The most likely solution for the capital region is a transportation authority, responsible for both road projects and transit, bringing a co-ordinated approach that has been lacking.
Transportation, including transit, is critical to the livability and economy of the region. Increasingly, it is becoming a liability rather than an asset.
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