Is the provincial government committed to public transit? British Columbians are concerned that Budget 2020 appears to be a step backward on public transportation funding.
We know that access, reliability and convenience are critical factors to increasing ridership. Once people believe the government is committed to these services they will make the changes in their lives to become transit riders.
As the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, I have heard consistently from my constituents that they would like increased transit service on the Saanich Peninsula and the Southern Gulf Islands. The decision to freeze investments in BC Transit will have an impact on affordability and quality of life.
TRANSIT SERVICES AND FUNDING
Now, more than ever, governments need to invest in accessible, reliable, convenient public transit options — reduces greenhouse gas emissions and increases affordability. Investments to increase capacity and, importantly, accessibility, reliability and convenience always have to come before increased ridership. These values attract people onto the service. If these values are maintained and the experience is positive, people will make the decision to get rid of their vehicle and commit to public transit.
Instability, uncertainty and unreliability all diminish convenience. That’s what leads people to abandon public transit and invest in what they can count on, even if it’s a long commute in an expensive vehicle.
In Budget 2020, this government is reducing funding for B.C. Transit this year and implementing a freeze over the next two years. My question is to the Minister of Finance. At a time when we need to be accelerating investments in our public transit operations to support a shift to a clean economy, this government is pumping the brakes. Why is the government reducing funding for B.C. Transit?
Hon. C. Trevena:
I would like to thank the member for the question. Good public transit is essential, as he says, to making life more affordable for people. It is essential as we tackle climate change. This is why our government has partnered with federal and local governments to fund $1.2 billion worth of transit investments across B.C. in this decade. This is paying for new and replacement buses — usually CNG clean fuel buses — transit facilities, upgrades to existing facilities, transit exchanges, park-and-rides and, what we’ve seen work so successfully, new bus lanes.
To the member’s question about funding. Government funding on public transit should go to the services people rely on. If large reserves are built up year after year, as has been seen in B.C. Transit, it isn’t going to those services. That’s why we’re working with B.C. Transit, asking them to draw from its $42 million in reserves, as we work to expand transit services to serve more and more people.
Leader, Third Party on a supplemental.
In my community on the Saanich Peninsula, I have heard from employers that a lack of public transit is a barrier to growing their business. I hear from employees that public transit would increase affordability and their quality of life. I hear from people from all parts of my community how important the expansion of public transit is.
I appreciate that this government may want to force B.C. Transit to use their surplus this year, but this government is also planning a funding freeze over the next two years. As a result of this freeze, B.C. Transit predicts that ridership numbers will go down over the next few years. This is because funding will lag behind demand, meaning service levels will drop and people will choose not to take transit.
B.C. Transit needs certainty about their funding to be able to make the crucial planning decisions they need to increase service levels to grow ridership. My question is again to the Minister of Finance. If you’re committed to seeing growth in public transit, why forecast a freeze in funding over the next two years, handcuffing B.C. Transit’s ability to plan and grow for the future?
Hon. C. Trevena:
I think that the member is very well aware of our investment in transit systems in his own constituency. We are seeing hours of service increase. We are seeing that ridership has reached record levels. It’s expected to grow even larger in ’20-21 to a record 60.8 million trips.
Accurate ridership predictions for the following year are based on next year’s budget, so as B.C. Transit does draw from their larger reserves this year, there’s going to be no reduction in services, no impacts on expansion projects.
Public transit remains a top priority for our government. We want to make life more affordable. We want to tackle climate change. We want to make sure people have options when it comes to how they travel. That’s why we’re going to continue to maintain a positive approach to B.C. Transit.