Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Investing in BC Ferries, cycling, and transit a priority for British Columbians

Every fall, the BC government holds a province-wide public consultation to find out what people think should be priority spending areas, and where people think money could be saved. The theory is that this consultation process will actually help shape the following year’s province budget.

The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, which is the legislative committee that drives the consultation process, recently released their Report on the Budget 2016 Consultations. The committee received 375 submissions from both individuals and organizations. So what did people think?

The provincial government asked people to rank three items in order of importance. Consultation participants thought the government’s number one priority should be to “invest in infrastructure, like school, road, and health facilities.” This was followed by implementing tax relief and affordability measures, and finally reducing debt and borrowing.

When it came to spending priorities, participants wanted to see more investment in health care, education, environmental protection, and parks.

The committee made 63 recommendations based on the results of the consultation. These recommendations are summarized at the end of the consultation report.

One of the areas that I wanted to examine was transportation policy. The provincial government is focused on building multi-billion dollar freeways and bridge projects. In Metro Vancouver, we can see this in action. This is also the case in other parts of the province. For example in Kelowna, the province is considering building a second bridge across Okanagan Lake in Kelowna. With all the spending on bridges and freeways, you’d think this was a priority for British Columbians. If the budget consultation is any indication, this is not the case.

People in BC want to see investment in BC Ferries, cycling, and public transit. This is carried through to the recommendations of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. Their four recommendation around transportation in BC are:

  • Undertake a review of changes made to BC Ferries schedules and fares in 2014 to look for opportunities for adjustment based on social and economic impacts.
  • Invest in improvements to expand cycling infrastructure, promote cycling as an alternative transportation model and to increase cycling safety awareness and education among cyclists and drivers.
  • Commit to increased funding for public transit to provide improved service in urban centres and rural areas.
  • Work to secure long-term, stable funding for transportation and transit infrastructure improvements.

People in the province want more travel options. It is disconcerting that current government policy has been to put up roadblocks to transit funding in Metro Vancouver, freeze the BC Transit budget, and cut service on BC Ferries. Hopefully the provincial government will take to heart the recommendations in their own consultation document, and invest in infrastructure that people in our province demand.

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