The wheels on a bus from Penticton to Kelowna are on track to start going round and round starting September 2019.
Directors of the Regional District Okanagan-Similkamee entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with B.C. Transit at Thursday’s meeting during the Community Services Committee.
“At the end of the day the thing to remember is this is a highly subsidized service, so it’s a no brainer for me,” said director Michael Brydon, Area F (West Bench).
The majority of the debate on entering the MOU, surrounded whether the Similkameen Valley would be interested in being part of the service at this point. Although RDOS staff acknowledged a Penticton to Kelowna service wouldn’t replace the soon to be defunct Greyhound service through the Similkameen, the hope is it will tie-in existing services eventually so riders everywhere in the RDOS could reach West Kelowna easily.
Princeton Mayor Frank Armitage and Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer provided immediate support for the new twice-daily route as long as details were worked out to ensure the existing B.C. Transit bus service in the valley could be tied in.
Director George Bush, Area B (Cawston) also came out in favour.
“I think it’s good. The idea you can drive to Kaleden and drop someone off to go to the Kelowna hospital, that would be awesome,” he said.
Reluctant, although he eventually voted in favour, was Area G director Elef Christensen.
Christensen questioned the value for residents in his area, who based on preliminary numbers, would pay on average an increase in taxes of $1.34 per year per household (just over 10 cents a month).
His resistance was met with comments from fellow directors that if the Similkameen was not part of the system, input on schedules and bus stops would not be accepted.
“It’s a great value for a system that is going to continue to grow,” Bauer said.
The need for public transit between Penticton to Kelowna was identified as a priority in the 2015 Okanagan Similkameen Transit Future Plan.
The MOU is non-binding but sets out a series of steps and timelines and rough estimates of costs for areas and municipalities.
The largest share of the service will be paid by Penticton at $64,730 which means an increase of about $3 for the average homeowner while Keremeos would pay the smallest amount towards it at $1,700 or $1.60 increase to the average homeowner per year.
Talks are underway with Peachland and West Kelowna about potentially paying towards the bus system, reducing the cost for the municipalities and the areas in the South Okanagan and Similkameen.
An aggressive timeline devised by B.C. Transit will see working committees figuring out schedules, bus stops and fare prices this summer with public engagement planned for fall 2018.
If all goes as planned the bus will be up and operational by September 2019.