Replacing Salt Spring’s diesel buses once they age out of service with electric vehicles is being recommended by the Salt Spring Island Transportation Commission as a result of a strategic planning session that took place on July 29.
Capital Regional District director Gary Holman, who is doubling as SSITC chair, reported the commission heard from delegate Kjell Liem and commissioner Gary Lehman about new possibilities for using Canadian-made products. Both Liem and Lehman are members of Salt Spring Community Energy, and have been exploring energy-efficient transportation possibilities for School District 64.
Holman said the discussion came about by chance on the same day that BC Transit and the provincial government announced plans to make the fleet completely electric by 2040, starting with larger buses in urban centres.
Increased transit options on the island, including the introduction of bus service to Beddis and Cusheon Lakes roads, is proposed for June 2020 as part of the strategic planning exercise. The commission voted last week to recommend the CRD and BC Transit support the new route ahead of schedule, which was originally proposed for 2021. A second expansion for June 2020 would add earlier service Sunday and holiday mornings on some routes.
Holman said the commission currently has enough room in its tax requisition for the two initiatives, which will take less than $20,000 per year to fund. Growth beyond 2022 will require both taking the tax requisition up to its allowable maximum, and then increasing it. Currently the annual transit requisition is set at $217,000, which costs the average homeowner $32 per year. A proposed transit expansion could see that amount increase starting in 2020.
The commission has also settled on some priorities for the transportation side of its portfolio for the coming year. Accepting that most of the members, including Holman, are new to the group, they decided to focus on getting some outstanding projects completed before tackling any new ideas. The top two priorities will be finishing the North Ganges Transportation Plan, with pedestrian and cycling improvements on Lower Ganges Road at Rainbow Road, and the new pathway on Lower Ganges from Booth Canal Road to Central.
Holman said the CRD is still working on getting the heritage site alteration permit required to complete drainage work on the shoreline at the end of Rainbow Road. Further delays have come through staffing issues, with no engineer in place since January. Holman said a new engineer for Salt Spring has been hired and will start work in September. After that person comes on, the CRD will work to fill an engineering tech position to aid the engineer.
The other pathway project has also run into complications because of a culvert and steep bank near the Booth Canal end. Holman said an initial cost estimate came in much higher than expected. The commission has $315,000 budgeted toward the project, including a $100,000 Shaw Family Grant. They plan to get started on the less complicated section from Central to Baker Road as soon as possible, and to seek partnership with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure on the trickier portion.
Smaller goals for the coming year will be to work on accessibility and pedestrian safety issues in Ganges village, perhaps by utilizing the CRD parks maintenance crew. Advocacy work will continue on road and intersection safety and speed limits, Holman said.
For more on this story, see the August 7, 2019 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.