We should celebrate — and learn from — the successful commuter ferry run launched from Colwood to CFB Esquimalt and Victoria Shipyards.
The service doesn’t cost taxpayers anything. After only eight months, it’s already carrying about 500 people a day. That’s enough to reduce rush-hour traffic coming in from the West Shore by up to five per cent, a significant contribution.
Victoria Harbour Ferry — with co-operation from local governments and the military — stepped up when CFB Esquimalt cancelled its commuter-boat service. Passengers who had been enjoying free transport proved willing to pay a reasonable rate. Roads are less congested for everyone.
So what do we learn?
First, to be open to new proposals and new solutions. Victoria Harbour Ferry runs those charming little green boats around the harbour and Gorge waterway. The company had no experience with commuter service. But it saw an opportunity and acted and, thankfully, no government regulators created barriers.
Second, to recognize the value of a variety of different approaches — including private and public sector.
Neither has a monopoly on effectiveness. But each has its strengths and weaknesses.
In 2008, for example, B.C. Transit and the provincial government promised “RapidBus” ramps to speed transit users along the Trans-Canada, cutting their commute by 20 minutes. Almost five years later, nothing has happened. That suggests a profound weakness in organization or governance.
But Langford’s by-donation trolley service to major centres in the municipality is a public enterprise and an innovative success story. Some people ride the trolley instead of driving. Some have new access to community centres.
Kids have a safe way of getting around and seniors can visit friends or shop without driving. Private, public, partnerships between the two — all can be appropriate, depending on the situation. There aren’t many people who would claim this region has done an adequate job on transportation.
We sit in traffic jams. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on projects like the Spencer Road bridge to nowhere, to little benefit so far.
Buses routinely leave passengers waiting in the rain. Employers don’t implement basic changes, such as staggered hours or telecommuting. And we don’t car-pool, despite both the savings and our claimed environmental commitment.
So, it’s time to try new things, like trolleys and ferry commuter services and options we might not have thought of yet. And to hold to account those who promised things — like busways — and failed to deliver.
We tend to focus on big solutions to all our problems — commuter rail, LRT or massive highway projects.
It’s time to look at the chance to learn from many small projects — private, public, combinations yet unknown. What matters is solving the problems — not how we get there.
© Copyright 2013