B.C. Transit ridership goal unlikely to be met: province

Number of riders rising, but still behind benchmarks

The B.C. government admits it's not likely to hit a goal of doubling public transit ridership by 2020.

Transportation Minister Mary Polak said she's not surprised by an analysis from auditor general John Doyle showing B.C. Transit ridership is lagging behind government benchmarks.

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"There certainly is a challenge in reaching the goals, and so we've been working with local governments and B.C. Transit," Polak said.

Some local governments don't have the money to pay to expand transit infrastructure and grow service, or have competing local priorities, she said. The government has committed to being more responsive to what communities want and can afford.

The target will be kept on the books as an "aspira-tional" goal to encourage transit growth behaviour, Polak said.

Doyle's report found provincewide transit ridership has grown by 6.9 million passenger trips since 2007.

That is 27 per cent lower than what's needed - 9.4 million trips - to meet the 2020 target of doubling ridership, Doyle wrote, noting that B.C. Transit's own forecasts show the gap will grow to 46 per cent by 2014-15.

Data from the Canadian Urban Transit Association show 25.35 million trips throughout the capital region for the year ending March 31, a small increase of 0.4 per cent over 2010-11 numbers.

At the same time, service levels were cut by 7,000 hours. The number of trips were higher than any other community of its size within the country.

Looking at the overall picture, Doyle blamed "insufficient collaboration" between B.C. Transit, a Crown corporation, and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Former premier Gordon Campbell announced the plan to double transit ridership in 2008, saying it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a cumulative 4.7 million tonnes by 2020.

But the province didn't come to the table with the necessary money, said Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, who serves on the Victoria Regional Transit Commission.

"It's an unfunded promise," he said. "There's no bucket of money to fund a doubling of transit."

The goal hasn't been discussed for years, he said.

B.C. Transit is still growing its ridership, which is up 0.7 per cent province-wide, said spokeswoman Meribeth Burton.

"The targets set in 2007 were very aggressive ones," she said. "We'd love to be able to meet those targets. It would mean a significant financial injection."

The government goal was "very lofty and ambitious," Burton said.

"I think there's some dialogue now between the province and B.C. Transit about looking more realistically at targets going forward."

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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