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West Bench transit gets green light

A plan to provide transit to the West Bench area received a green light at Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen.

A plan to provide transit to the West Bench area received a green light at Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen, while a cost sharing funding formula for transit in Osoyoos received the red light from directors.

RDOS directors voted to go ahead with a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with B.C. Transit that could see four trips per day, Monday to Friday going through the West Bench area on a trial basis starting sometime in 2017/2018.

Now that the MOU is agreed upon, B.C. Transit will go ahead and request funding from the province to aid in covering the cost of the 400-hour per year trial service.

“There’s only one way to find out if this bus will work and that’s to try it,” said Michael Brydon, Area F (including West Bench) director.

Brydon estimated the cost to the average household would be between $20 to $25 a year.

There has not been a transit service in the West Bench since the 1980s when it was tested for interest.

Low ridership put the brakes on the system, which hasn’t been tried since.

In 2008, a survey showed that 60 per cent of residents supported transit in the area.

“There will be people who use it and people who don’t use it,” Brydon said.

Although too early in the process for routes and stops to be identified, Bill Newell, chief administrative officer for RDOS, said it might be possible to tie the West Bench route into an existing route, meaning a new bus would not have to be bought equalling huge savings to tax payers.

In May, the province announced $12.7 million in funding over the next three years to support transit expansion initiatives throughout the province. The province is offering matching funding for transit expansion projects.

While the wheels are set to go round in West Bench, the wheels fell off a new funding model plan devised by RDOS staff for taking over the South Okanagan Transit System (SOTS).

The SOTS is operated by the Town of Osoyoos in partnership with B.C. Transit.

Osoyoos petitioned the RDOS to take over the system back in 2007 but B.C. Transit would transfer the system until a Transit Future Study for the region was completed.

The RDOS has completed the study and in March RDOS directors voted to create a taxation structure for the rural areas contributing to the service.

Tom Siddon, Area D director, is for an improved transit system but came out hard against the funding formula that would see his area paying almost 31 per cent of the bill while Osoyoos’ share is 30 per cent.

“The proposed cost sharing formula is not equitable,” Siddon said.

“Area D residents should not have to off-set what has been a subsidy for an Osoyoos service that goes all the way to the Kelowna airport,” he added later in the meeting.

Siddon said the funding formula put him in a political predicament with voters in his area as half of them are already serviced through a shuttle service they pay $60,000 a year for and the other portion would barely be serviced by the transit system.

The current three routes being offered by SOTS are a route that travels through Osoyoos only, another from Osoyoos to Summerland (including stops in Oliver, Okanagan Falls, Penticton), and the last route is from Osoyoos to Kelowna (including stops in Oliver, Okanagan Falls, Penticton and Summerland.

There is not a regular stop in Kaleden but on demand service was recently implemented.

RDOS staff is now tasked with coming up with a different funding formula. The new formula will be presented at an upcoming meeting.