At its regular open meeting held April 10, the Town of Golden Council announced its intent to cancel all contracts associated with the provision of public transit services in the Golden area.
The announcement has caused some backlash from the community who is trying to understand why and how the decision was made.
Sonya Smith is the President of Olympus Stage Lines which was the company contracted to run the service in Golden. Even though she is a business person, Smith was not happy about the decision for many reasons.
“As a taxpayer I am angry and disappointed. I do believe there is a lot of misconception in the community,” Smith said. “I believe our community is losing a service which could have been very valuable.”
Chief Administrative Officer for the Town of Golden, David Allen, said he understood how it could look as if this was a decision which was made quickly in the public eye but nothing could be further from the truth.
“It was based on a pretty thorough analysis that BC Transit did of the service. That was a 92 page report. The gist of it really was the reason for council deciding to discontinue the service,” he said.
Allen explained that in the report that when Golden was compared with similar sized communities, the town was at the bottom with a 3.4 per cent cost recovery and it was second highest from the top for the cost to run the service. Allen pointed to a combination of long distances in the rural area combined with a low ridership as contributing factors.
Smith felt the system was not used to its full potential, and that the town had not taken advantage of the opportunities offered. “There are small communities with amazing transit systems. Those municipalities actively plan, advertise, promote and support their systems. BC Transit offers municipalities marketing materials at no charge and Golden has never to my knowledge taken advantage of these tools,” Smith said.
Allen felt the service was just not living up to the goals that it was implemented for.
“The idea of public transit is that it should be convenient and get single occupancy vehicles off the road. It should reduce greenhouse gas emissions but clearly it wasn’t having that kind of impact,” Allen said. “Unfortunately it failed. People were not using it.”
Smith saw the transit as an important part to Golden moving forward, and is something which will hurt the area going forward.
“Transit has many benefits, economic, social and environmental. Despite the Official Community Plan indicating transit is a priority to the community now and into the future, it has been cut I believe without adequate consideration of the future of our community,” she said.
Allen also explained the decision had to be made in a timely fashion so the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD), who provided part of the funding for the service, could be informed.
He also stressed that another contributing factor in the cancellation of the system was the fact that the town was going to have to purchase two new buses at the end of the year.
“That would have tapped out our grants and gas tax money. With the expectation that ridership would not increase all that much we would be stuck with a service that would not do what it was intended to do.”
Smith felt there were changes available to council to work with the system.
“At a time when people are recognizing the benefits of transit more than ever before Golden has cancelled the service without even truly attempting to make it successful,” she said. She went on to explain that at a meeting with council in February it was indicated “The Golden system was still ‘young’ and establishing itself. And poor performance was not uncommon in this situation.”
Smith felt transit could have also helped with other problems the town is facing such as limited parking.
“Transit had the potential to benefit many residents 12 months out of the year unlike many other projects such as the bicycle program. People who utilize transit are generally not the most affluent in society and, consequently, often times their voices are easily ignored.”
Allen said that sometimes when economic situations are tough councils are put in a position where they “have to make tough decisions.”
“You have to look at all your services…In terms of the public transit system it was not about the idea of scaling back. We had a very low ridership and a very high cost,” Allen said.
Smith felt from the information she has been provided on the system, there was a great chance for this service moving ahead and the system is a great loss to the area.
“After going to such great lengths in order to bring BC Transit into our community, cancelling the system without first making every effort to have it succeed seems premature… Primarily it is important for people to know that we had an opportunity to offer a valuable service to our community at potentially no cost to taxpayers and now it has been cancelled.”