Will Ladysmith trolleys be scrapped?

Rob Johnson encourages Ladysmith residents to share their opinions about transit with town council.


At the June 4 meeting of town council, council moved to send a letter to the Cowichan Valley Regional District [CVRD] stating “that the Town is very interested in joining the CVRD Transit Service Function, and wish for the CVRD to approve Ladysmith as a new transit service partner.”

If we became a transit partner, how would this affect you and me and the community at large? In a report to council from staff, It says we would get two community shuttle buses for 20-24 people. They would run on “conventional fuel,” and they would supply a similar level of service to what we now have [3,000 hours], covering the existing routes. In addition, there would be an additional 1,100 hours of service to Chemainus via the highway to link up with the existing Chemainus/Crofton bus to Duncan. This would eliminate the need for Ladysmith to operate its existing trolley system.

To become part this transit service, Ladysmith would have to join the CVRD transit system. Once Ladysmith becomes part of the CVRD system, we are committed, with no likelihood of being able to extract ourselves from it.

Ladysmith would have a say in the  operation of the CVRD transit, but we would be committed to whatever cost the group decides on. For the year 2013, CVRD transit is projected to cost $2 million. According to the report, Ladysmith would have to pay 9.71 per cent of that cost if we become part of the transit system. This means that our share for 2013 would be $194,294. In comparison, our present trolley system costs $158,000 per year, but there is no allowance for replacement of the trolleys in the future.

Is this a good  deal? That is for you and council to decide.

Here are my observations:

• Pros: The proposed buses are smaller and better suited to local needs. They are newer and “better” equipment with air conditioning. We will have the full resources of BC Transit to back up buses should there be breakdowns. By joining regional transit, we will have an opportunity  to get Handy Dart service in the future. There will be a connector bus to Duncan via Chemainus for those who want it. The town will not need to build up reserves for replacement trolleys.

• Cons: The cost of the service is more expensive. The connecting route goes to Duncan and not Nanaimo. Any future connection to Nanaimo “will be in the five- to 10-year range.” Scheduling and route planing  would no longer be  under local control. The proposed plan excludes the opportunity for residents of Saltair and north Chemainus to take advantage of coming to Ladysmith to shop, as the proposed route is via the highway and not Chemainus Road.

• Other considerations that have to be looked at: What do we do with our existing trolleys, as BC Transit can’t use them? If we sell off the existing trolleys, how much will be able to recapture? The first trolley was paid for from a government grant — will it have to be paid back? What becomes of the drivers we have hired for the trolley? There is no guarantee that the existing partners in CVRD transit will allow us to join in their transit system.

If I were still on council, I would be fighting hard to ensure we found a solution that met our municipal transit needs  in an affordable and responsible way, while pursuing an intercity connection to a city that the vast majority of our resident want to travel to.

Remember, once committed to a regional transit system we can’t get out of it. I don’t believe that  the residents of Ladysmith can afford to be part of two transit systems, so we must choose wisely. According to a conversation I had with a senior official of BC Transit, it is not impossible for Ladysmith to be part of the Nanaimo regional transit system, but it would be much more difficult than if we joined our “local regional transit system.” If this is want the public wants, then it should be further investigated before the town makes any commitment.

We as residents will be affected by whatever action council chooses to take on this matter; therefore, if you have an opinion on this matter, be it in favour of the proposal or if you want to see more local transit with more routes and better service, or if you think, as I do, that we should be doing everything possible to service the needs of our community and tie in any intercity service to Nanaimo and area rather than Duncan, let council know as soon as possible.

Council needs your input and your views to help make  such an important decision.

Rob Johnson