The regional district board unanimously voted last week to waive a special event transit service fee to assist 19 Wing Comox in hosting the Comox Air Show, which returns to the Valley in August after an eight-year hiatus.
Air show director Maj. Dwayne Kerr appeared before the board to discuss options to alleviate parking and traffic issues apparent at previous events.
The CVRD and BC Transit have developed a draft for a free park and ride service from North Island College, the exhibition grounds and the old Brooklyn Elementary site in Comox, as well as a shuttle from the CFB Comox parking lot adjacent to the Griffin Pub.
Regular transit service will also operate on the day of the event Aug. 17. At peak times, buses will leave the park and rides and CFB Comox about every 15 minutes. Riders will be encouraged to make a donation to support the local transit system.
The approximate cost for the service is $7,000, equally shared by the district and BC Transit. In return, each will receive sponsorship recognition.
“There is a tremendous hunger for an air show,” said Courtenay director Jon Ambler. The former commander of 19 Wing Comox noted gridlock problems resulted on Ryan Road when the 25,000 attendees exited the grounds at the last air show in 2005.
Organizers anticipate this year’s show will attract 30,000 visitors, which Ambler said translates into a “half-million-dollar event.”
Courtenay director Starr Winchester recalls the air show was part of life growing up in the Valley. She is in favour of working with BC Transit to ensure the gridlock does not repeat itself.
Comox director Tom Grant noted the $3,500 budgetary implications that will need to be made up.
The service will be provided on a “total cost-recovery basis,” says a district staff report.
Winchester questioned where the board is to draw the line in terms of waiving transit fares for special events, mindful of treating all events fairly.
Ambler, noting other events don’t cause the same level of arterial road congestion, feels $7,000 is worth waiving to avoid gridlock on Ryan.
Courtenay director Bill Anglin considers the waived fees more as sponsorship-in-kind.
“For $3,500, at the end of the day that’s a pretty good return for your investment,” he said.
Area B director Jim Gillis favours free transit service to encourage a greater number of attendees and fewer cars on the road during special events.
“The more people you can get on transit the better,” he said. “Here is a classic example.”
Comox director Patti Fletcher considers the air show an “excellent opportunity to showcase our transit service.”