Council inched closer to passing a rezoning bylaw Tuesday (Sept. 18) that would open up the B.C. Transit facility to private bus operators, potentially bringing in another revenue stream for the municipality.
“I don’t see a downside to this, I think this is a good move forward,” said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden during the council meeting. “What we’re looking for is to increase revenues even if they aren’t significant.”
Council is keen to move ahead on the amendment in order to recoup some of the costs associated with the construction of the site — of which the muni is paying 53 per cent, with the province covering the rest — in order to invest the money back into public transit initiatives.
The facility that was famously referred to as “garage-mahal” by former councillor Eckhard Zeidler, currently houses the municipality’s 23 operational buses, but has the capacity to store 27 more.
The bylaw was given third reading Tuesday. It is now required to be referred to the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Community Sport and Cultural Development for approval before council can consider adoption at a future meeting.
This reading was tabled after a Sept. 4 public hearing where private citizen Bill Murray expressed concern over the proposed rezoning and a business plan provided to the province outlining the site’s revenue and expense potential. If there are comments against a rezoning, council will not consider third reading until a later date as a matter of procedure.
Murray is the president of private transportation company Whistler Connection. He expressed hope that his company could expand into another proposed transportation development site, the Mons Road project off of Highway 99, which doesn’t change his concerns with the transit facility, considering the two sites could compete for business.
“It’s certain that the new Mons site probably could offer the same kinds of services (as the B.C. Transite site),” he said. “One of my main concerns is that they haven’t really looked at what services they want to offer there.”
Murray is also a member of the Transit Management Advisory Committee (TMAC), tasked with analyzing the proposed amendment, which was privy to a B.C. Transit Commercial Services Business Case. It was not provided as part of the rezoning application, but outlined the potential economic opportunities and costs associated with the rezoning.
He expressed concern that the plan didn’t adequately survey the site’s potential client base, and with only one confirmed tenant for the facility, Vancouver-based Pacific Coach Lines, there would be no guaranteed revenue if that company were to back out in the future, said Murray.
TMAC previously recommended that council avoid moving ahead on the rezoning until a proper business plan was carried out.
“I think some more planning should have been done on the costs and revenue of the program,” said Murray. “I hope for the RMOW’s sake that their revenues are there and that the revenues exceed the expenses down the road.”
Council, meanwhile, echoed the mayor’s desires to proceed with the project.
The transit facility has “been an unpopular community site since it was built, and it was our desire to look at some other options,” said Coun. Jayson Faulkner during Tuesday’s meeting. “It may not be perfect. The downside on this is very limited, it doesn’t have a massive upside, but it’s certainly better than the status quo.”
“I do think that we need to continue to be a part of how this develops,” said Coun. Jack Crompton. “We understand the potential drawbacks and we’ve addressed them and I think that’s a positive.”
After a public hearing council members are prohibited from discussing the rezoning initiative until the bylaw is adopted, although their comments during council meetings are considered public domain.