A Look at Transit in the South Island
by Sue Stroud, citizen reporter
Last spring Saanich Peninsula Green Drinks hosted a presentation by Eric Doherty of the Better Transit Alliance of Greater Victoria around transit options for the region. The evening, hosted by Central Saanich Councillor Alicia Holman included a slide show followed by a lively discussion.
Doherty’s presentation held the position that a community can’t build its way out of traffic congestion – growth supersedes road building and road building facilitates further growth. He suggested that, in the Southern Vancouver Island region, this was demonstrated by the road ‘improvements’ that took place to eliminate what is lovingly referred to as the Colwood Crawl – the traffic stand-still/crawl that happens on Hwy #1 and roads parallel to it heading into Victoria in the morning, and out again in the late afternoon.
Doherty illustrated that while the crawl situation did disappear, building growth soon took advantage of this convenience and it was only about three years before the housing developments in Colwood and Langford re-created the Colwood Crawl.
“Building more roads to prevent congestion is like a fat man loosening his belt to prevent obesity.”
This famous phrase is (probably) based on a 1955 article by the great urban planning specialist Lewis Mumford.
So what is the answer?
Doherty proposes that room must be made for alternate forms of transportation and especially for mass transit.
“Reducing road space reduces the use of cars,” Doherty said, “Vancouver has less congestion in the downtown core since bike lanes have been introduced.” He illustrated this by showing a slide from Zurich, Switzerland in which one bus was found to have as many passengers on it as were in the roughly thirty cars that surrounded it. Zurich found that buses and streetcars were getting caught in traffic so they built a bus lane that now has the same carrying capacity as a major freeway. Buses are scheduled frequent, coming approximately every eight minutes so there is no need for a written schedule.
“In 2011 the Victoria Region agreed to shift from moving cars to moving people”, Doherty said, “the Better Transit Alliance is proposing shoulder bus lanes to move the buses faster and a two cent increase in the gas tax is needed in the region to facilitate better transit.”
Jim Pullan, a transit driver in attendance, pointed out that the government hasn’t increased funding for transit for the past 10 years and that 10,000 hours of transit service was cut from various routes over that same time. Transit is 18 drivers short of what they need to provide current service and ridership is increasing at a rate of three percent per year. “The wheels are literally falling off,” said Pullan. He pointed out that Victoria has the only major airport in Canada without direct bus service. “If you live in Langford and need to catch a 2 pm flight you have to leave home at 7 am to get to Victoria airport for the 1 pm security check in time.”
Doherty said that “Transit has to be part of the focus on climate justice, buses that drive by full are a deterrent to those who would take transit,” he added, “We need to focus on what can be done quickly over the next five years.”
“We need the Capital Regional District to take a strong position on transit over cars. Vancouver did this by organizing throughout their District and advocating for it at every opportunity, the result is the new Evergreen Line.”
Saanich Voice Online contacted Saanich Councillor and Chair of the Victoria Regional Transit Commission Susan Brice for comment. Some of the work that Brice pointed to was the strategic plan, completed in 2011 called the Victoria Region Transit Future Plan. She said that one of the key components of the plan is the identification of key transit corridors in the region along with short, medium and long-term investments to achieve the overall vision.
“The development of bus priority lanes along Douglas Street and the Trans Canada Highway is one example of an investment that will assist the region in achieving overall transportation goals,” said Brice.
“Douglas Street has the highest levels of transit ridership and Transit service in the region with over 23,000 people travelling by Transit throughout the day along that corridor. At peak travel times, approximately 40% of people travelling on the Douglas corridor are doing so on Transit,” she added.
Pullan said accidents on the Pat Bay Highway could be significantly reduced if an efficient and convenient transit service was available to get people to and from work.
“Viking Air has 300 employees and no direct transit service. We could use shuttle buses to feed into the larger commuter bus routes. Several years ago the Keating Call Centre paid for direct service for their employees to get to work and the tourist industry should certainly be advocating for more buses because money not spent on cars and gas is spent on dining out, going to concerts and in various small businesses and attractions in the community.”
“It shouldn’t be too difficult to make bus travel more efficient,” Doherty said, “dedicated lanes, signal priority for buses so that they only stop when pedestrians are crossing and better interchanges designed to move buses faster would all help. The BC Transit planning department has 10-, 15- and 30-year plans on their website, all that is needed is the political will to carry them out, but currently new developments are being built away from transit routes which only adds to the problem.
“In Boulder, Colorado they held a plebiscite which forced businesses to buy transit passes for their employees and in Central Saanich Councillor King regularly asks developers to include bus passes as part of the package deal for their developments. In Geneva millions are spent on park and rides and buses travel to bicycle trail heads, all that’s needed here is a little imagination and a big public push, he concluded.”
The Better Transit Alliance can be found at BetterTransitYYJ.com