Even though B.C. Transit says there is money available for transit expansion in the province, Penticton won’t be taking advantage of their offer to set some transit priorities for the community.
A number of items were put on the table by Penticton’s transportation committee, including adding the No. 5 route to Sunday service, later night service on some routes and increasing the frequency of the Main Street route to once every 20 minutes.
But one of the major items, with an equivalent price tag, was the addition of a regional route connecting Penticton to West Kelowna. That proved to be a stumbling block for council.
Connecting to West Kelowna would make it possible, via connections, to travel to UBC Okanagan and Kelowna. Adding that route would cost Penticton $130,000 per year, which Coun. Helena Konanz objected to.
“I want to get our funding partners up and going before we agree to this bus to West Kelowna,” said Konanz. “I do believe in that regional service, but I don’t think we should start without having regional partners on board.
“Once you get started, there is no reason for a partner to join us if we are paying for it.”
Konanz also questioned the likelihood of students being willing to take a two-hour or longer daily commute, each way, to attend university in Kelowna.
Jakubeit admitted the city has no hard data to suggest there is any great desire for such a transit route among students, but did stress that it would also allow some people to access medical services in Kelowna.
“I don’t think we have that data, it is more anecdotal,” said Jakubeit. “The Vernon UBC-O busses are jammed, it is very well used, it is a shorter trip though.
“I can’t tell you that adding that route would increase ridership by X numbers.”
Jakubeit agreed that Penticton shouldn’t bear the full cost of such a route, suggesting the province should contribute more, at least for the first five years to get it established.
“That transportation hub is to access higher education and for better, more health care services. Those are things they really should be helping with,” he said.
Coun. Andre Martin suggested going with the third option, leaving the transit system at status quo, saying the city already had higher spending priorities, like the work that would be needed under the Facilities Master Plan.
“Maybe we should have this discussion at budget time about that,” said Martin. Picton echoed his concerns about financial implications.
“I don’t know where we are going to get the $131,000 every single year,” said Picton. “I think we have more pressing issues than a bus to Kelowna.”
City manager Eric Sorenson spoke to the issue as well, a rare occurrence for the new chief administrator.
“Even though it sounds in principle like a wonderful idea, we don’t know if we can afford it,” said Sorenson. “If the province wants us to do it, they should have been funding it.”
Jakubeit said council’s decision to stay with the status quo was appropriate, that such a question needed to be discussed in the budget process.
“They all have a budget amount attached. It is probably more appropriate to talk about at budget time. I think you have to put these things in perspective. It might be a ‘nice to have’ increased bus service, but it might not be as high a priority as another budget item,” said Jakubeit. “The next step is to circle back with the regional district to see if there is any appetite for a Kelowna-Penticton connection.”