Bus rapid transit (BRT) between the Westshore and downtown is key to the future prosperity of our region and to meeting our climate action goals as a community. In 2011, the Transit Commission adopted the Transit Futures Plan, which lays the foundation for transit development in the region. BRT between the Westshore and downtown is a key element of the plan. The lines are on the map for dedicated bus lanes. But the lanes are not yet on the roads.
This is because to date, the Transit Commission and local government partners have taken an incremental, patchwork approach to transit improvements. We’ve tackled one fragment of dedicated bus lanes at a time, starting in the City of Victoria.
But we haven’t conceived of BRT as a complete project, including all the stations, the Uptown Exchange, and an additional bus garage. We don’t have a total project budget nor do we have a current business case or a project implementation plan.
Although we hope it doesn’t take as long to get there, the sewage project serves as a good approach to thinking about transit. We received a business case and implementation plan for the project as a whole. We call it the “$765 million sewage project.” With sewage we don’t think of the liquid processing facility, the conveyancing, and the solids processing plant as separate projects. All elements of the system are needed to make it work. This is also true with BRT.
It’s clear that incrementalism isn’t working. We know this because we haven’t moved the needle on transit ridership. In 2010 6.5% of the people in the region used transit. In 2017 6.5% of people in the region use transit. When BC Transit brought in BRT in Kelowna they expected 7% to 8% ridership; ridership jumped to 14%.
Thankfully at its December meeting the Victoria Transit Commission, which I sit on with a number of my colleagues from across the region, unanimously adopted a motion directing staff to develop a business case and implementation plan for a complete BRT project from downtown to the Westshore. We’ve asked staff to include all the necessary infrastructure in their business case. We’ve also asked them to include an analysis of the costs and benefit to our residents.
There will be an initial capital cost to building this infrastructure. But this infrastructure investment will keep money in people’s pockets and increase general well-being. Recent research shows that people who commute daily by car spend at least 20% of household income on transportation. Research also shows that those stuck in traffic in daily commutes express lower levels of life satisfaction and well-being.
The time to act is now. We have a provincial and federal government interested in funding transit. We have a thriving economy and a growing population. And for the first time in history with the millennials, we have a generation that is driving less than the generation before them. This trend will continue. Our current and future citizens want to live and work in places with high-quality, high-speed transit. We can’t leave our future behind.