The single BC Transit bus service in the Boundary is fast approaching a fork in the road. With no operator secured for the future and the continuity of service apparently reliant on rising costs, the Grand Forks to Greenwood community shuttle is facing an overhaul of how it’s run.
Last March, the operational contract with the Interior Health Authority expired, though the health authority agreed to temporarily continue its service until a new operator is found. Now, after one failed proposal from a local taxi company to take over the service, the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB) is looking to put it to the public to determine if the bus service is worth keeping, and how much exactly they would be willing to pay to keep the engine running.
While the RDKB is aiming to have a short-term operator in place to continue the service as-is through 2020, directors and staff will be looking for public feedback and consultation around the value of the service in order to plan for the future. Any more spending through property tax dollars would first need to go to a referendum before being approved.
RDKB directors were told at a January meeting that even with sustained funding, service levels would likely have to be cut.
Currently, the Boundary bus works on an on-call basis from Monday through Friday and offers a round trip from Greenwood to Grand Forks and back on Fridays as well. A single fare within Grand Forks costs $1.50, while a round-trip ticket between Greenwood and Grand Forks costs $3.50.
Beyond rider fares, the service is paid for through taxes from the City of Grand Forks, the City of Greenwood and RDKB areas D and E, and is also subsidized provincially through BC Transit. While the annual tax requisition sits at $50,000, the service costs more than that to run. In 2018, the two electoral areas, along with Greenwood and Grand Forks added an additional $22,945 to supplement the service. Fares accounted for approximately $11,450 of the bus service’s revenue, leading to a total operating budget of $84,572.
Demand for the service has grown over the past decade. According to a 2011 BC Transit report on the Boundary bus, the bus offered nearly 5,000 rides that year. For 2018/19, the bus offered more than 7,000 rides.
No specific timeline for public consultation has yet been announced, although RDKB Area C director Grace MacGregor brought up the question of transit at a budget open house on Jan. 29 at the Christina Lake Community Hall. A majority of the several dozen attendees indicated in a digital poll that they were “interested” or “very interested” in seeing a bus service return to the lake, but no dollar figures were available to inform their decisions.