Transit users in the Comox Valley could be facing a 25-cent fare increase for rides in the new year, though the price of monthly bus passes would remain the same.
Last week, the regional district committee of the whole approved a recommended increase to bump regular fares to $2. Seniors and youth would pay $1.75.
Courtenay directors Starr Winchester and Bill Anglin opposed the fare structure option.
The last fare increase was July 1, 2011.
The CVRD receives 100 per cent of revenue from bus fares, passes, tickets sales and HandyDART. Although yearly revenue has increased by $31,400, ridership is down by 18,000 trips per year. However, transit manager Michael Zbarsky expects ridership to increase as the CVRD has 650 hours of service improvements in store.
The committee approved recommended improvements that include a limited stop express service from Courtenay to Comox. A focus on peak commuter hours is expected to serve a greater number of residents.
An amended Route 12 (North Valley Connector) would enable students north of Courtenay to reach North Island College directly rather than transferring downtown. A further amendment to Route 2 (Cumberland) would enable better access through a denser area including the Ulverston Station neighbourhood. The latter is subject to approval from Cumberland council.
Route changes are a result of public consultation and direction from the CVRD board.
“The main point is to grow ridership,” Cumberland Director Gwyn Sproule said at Tuesday’s COW meeting.
Area B director Jim Gillis concurs that “ridership is everything.”
He suggested considering different revenue streams such as gas taxes to support the local transit system.
The committee, however, defeated his motion for staff to research and determine how to financially support the system through alternative means.
About 49 per cent of transit revenue comes from cash fares and 51 per cent from monthly passes and tickets, according to a staff report. Compared to similar-sized transit systems on the Island, the Valley has the lowest adult cash fare at $1.75. Adult passes cost $52 in the Valley.
Other Tier 2 systems charge an average of $47.80 but the average for Island regional systems is $53.42.
The board needs to give its stamp of approval before changes come into effect.
In a subsequent discussion about the Comox Valley Transit Future Plan, Anglin suggested the district is doing something questionable if Campbell River’s transit system is able to generate more revenue and rides. He’d like to see a better return on the investment.
“Somehow we’re missing one component,” he said. “We’re trying to do too much with too little, and everyone is paying the costs for that.”
He suggests a taxi to Buckley Bay would be more cost-effective than a near-empty bus.
Area A director Bruce Jolliffe said it is not “apples to apples” when comparing transit in the Valley and Campbell River. Zbarsky noted the latter is a “tightly contained system.”
The board has directed that annual short-term service priorities be limited to a net share of $270,000.
“If we want a subsidized system, then we have to pay for it,” Gillis said, noting 66 per cent of the local transit system is subsidized.
But Winchester agreed with Anglin that the district needs to do better. For years, she has expressed concern about transit expenses and empty buses, and questions why smaller vehicles are not used throughout the Valley.
“Our taxpayers are paying too much,” Winchester said.
The plan, which looks ahead 25 years, suggests a mix of small- and medium-size buses could serve the Valley’s fleet, though smaller vehicles don’t necessarily translate into reduced costs.
Phase 1 of the plan considers the core urban area that encompasses Driftwood Mall, downtown Courtenay, North Island College and downtown Comox. Phase 2 looks at Cumberland.
The plan will be referred to municipalities before coming back to the CVRD board.