The taxi-saver program is an ill-conceived and politically motivated proposal that is being presented as a way to cut the drive for public transit right off the road.
Despite studies ad naseum, there are a few facts about public transit I would like to clarify. It is a subject with which I am very familiar. I have been pushing for a bus since the ‘90s, and have done my own studies and research. I have met with and spoken to transit officials from around the province.
First, public transit is undeniably good for our clean and sustainable environment – the one we all live in. If the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN) does not realise that Gabriolans value their environment, somebody should tell them.
Second, it is good for community sustainability and diversity. It is specifically good for communities with a larger number of retirees. That’s Gabriola. Those with fixed incomes and a lessening desire to drive or own a car are potential bus riders. So are low income earners and students, who make up part of our diverse population. All three of these groups need a public transit system to thrive. They are all traditionally frequent transit riders.
The third thing to realise is that a bus service will require a subsidy from the province and the federal government – and some money and support from the RDN. That is not a bad thing. We pay taxes for that. It will directly improve our quality of life, increase our property values, and create some employment on the island. That is good value for tax dollars. After a couple of years of regular and reliable service, a decent transit service will have encouraged local commuters to stop insuring a second vehicle and will have attracted people without vehicles to come to (or stay on) Gabriola. With the resulting increased ridership – and the kind of community support Gabriola can muster – it could well break even within 24 to 36 months – and provide full time employment in the process.
For the past 15 years or more, various people have been working behind the scenes to try and get this bus service established. Support has grown throughout the community over time, and recently the environmental aspect has sparked even more interest. Tentative agreements have been reached with local commercial kitchens to reclaim their cooking oil. A relatively inexpensive device can turn it into fuel for the bus and create a bit more employment while avoiding the use of fossil fuel. The grants and incentives offered for such green projects, mean more funding is available. That changes the equation and makes the proposal that much closer to being financially viable than ever before.
Sadly, the growing community support is not as vocal or overt as required and is therefore not reflected in the actions of our elected representatives and bureaucrats. They are too easily put off by political and financial roadblocks that are put up by those who are somehow threatened by a bus, or feel the few dollars spent on it are better spent on studies.
Lastly, a note about the ‘taxi-saver’ proposal: it will likely result in less taxi service, as the demand will increase at peak times (when subsidised fares will mostly be taken). The single taxi can only be one place at a time and wait times will increase for all would-be users. If however, the taxi-saver program were to increase taxi ridership to the point where the taxi company could support another vehicle – we would discover that it is costing nearly as much to operate the taxi-saver program for a few people as it would to subsidise a bus that would potentially serve everyone. Remember: a taxi company relies on people without cars for the majority of its business. Since a transit system will attract more pedestrians (i.e.: people without cars) to live here and encourage many local drivers to sell their cars, the taxi company will ultimately benefit from a bus.
Please take the time to speak out to your friends and neighbours and elected representatives and help to rally support for a real bus service to meet the needs of a maturing population. We are talking about a ‘HandyDART’ sized 24 passenger vehicle with wheelchair access that does a dozen or so trips around the island per day – hitting every neighbourhood every other hour at least. Routes have been tried and tested. Most of the island would be within a very short walk. It could be a thing of beauty. The question should really be: Why NOT have a bus service?
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