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General News · 27th February 2020
Kate Maddigan
The Cortes Island Transportation Committee would like to share this inspiring article about Community Buses on other gulf islands. We are still exploring a community bus across Quadra.

The following article was written by blogger Laverne Booth of Kootenay Lake, who attended last April’s Community Bus Forum on Gabriola. She describes efforts to establish Community Buses in some parts of the province since the forum.

People need to get out of their cars. As the price of gas goes up and the climate crisis gets worse - it is inevitable, we need to start now to build alternatives to the largest greenhouse gas contributor- individual cars”. Peter Luckham, chairperson of the Islands Trust, which just declared a climate emergency, made this (paraphrased) statement at the community bus forum held April 6 and 7 , on Gabriola Island.

Organizers of community bus systems on the gulf islands give other reasons to build local transportation systems including:
- Make it more affordable for people, especially young people, to move here.
- Assure our aging population that they will not have to leave once they do not drive.
- Improve health determinants such as social isolation, poverty and mobility issues.
- Increase social inclusion in recreation and community events.
- Connect people, both residents and visitors, to the ferry system.
- The story of each of the existing community bus systems is unique.

GERTIE (Gabriola Environmentally Responsible Trans-Isle Express) began as a ratepayers “climate change” initiative, then as a “stand alone” project which was supported by the Regional District of Nanaimo and received larger grants such as the federal gas tax, and rural dividend grants.

In 2013, organizers formed their own Gabriola Community Bus Foundation which manages the bus system. GERTIE has used bio-diesel fuel (50/50) since inception, is now able to pay drivers $20/hour (formerly all volunteer) and has a mobile phone system with an interactive map “Where’s Gertie?” GERTIE recently won a local referendum, and now receives property tax funding through the regional district. Claire Trevena, current Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, cites GERTIE as a model for other communities.

Pender Island has just completed a 2.5 year pilot project and hope to go soon to referendum for on-going tax funds. The community named the bus “Bussa Nova”. Their fares are by donation, and they rent the bus for charters.

They have one coordinator (paid $400) month, and 14 volunteer drivers who are paid by honorarium. They have an on-line tracking system and passenger log.

The Saturna Shuttle has been run by the Lions Club since 2013, even though a BC Transit Study said residents could not support a system. They run on a text/call if you need a lift with a 24 hour notice system.

Their vehicles have an exemption from the Passenger Transport Board because they run by donations and do not compete with commercial operators.

Cortes Island would like to improve service for ferry foot passengers, and partner with neighbouring Quadra Island for a community bus, for the benefit of both islands.

On Galiano Island, the primary ridership is visitors rather than locals. They encourage people to pay ahead and thus access an income tax credit.

The Hornby Island Bus is an initiative of Tribune Bay Outdoor Education Society in partnership with the Hornby Island Community Economic Enhancement Corporation (HICEEC) that offered a free summer bus service around the island in August.

After the successful first season, Community enthusiasm was running high to carry on with the bus service. But with no funding the bus was parked at the end of the 2017 summer. However, the 2017 successful pilot project drew the attention of the Comox Valley Regional District, who are responsible for public transportation service in the area.
In a forward-thinking manner, the CVRD stepped up with a commitment to undertake their own summer of 2018 pilot project to review the viability and logistics of the service. The Hornby community sponsors, and local governments, collaborated to bring service back for the full summer of 2018.

As for the East Shore of Kootenay Lake, I found out that our older vehicle, a 2001 Ford diesel 11 passenger van, purchased from Valley Services in Creston, is not unusual. Even GERTIE, now relatively well funded with tax dollars, is not able to buy new vehicles yet.

Each of the bus systems that attended the community bus forum developed uniquely, depending on their location and population. Each community needed volunteer champions to get the system off the ground. Volunteer drivers are supported in various ways- paying for the annual medical fee, in some cases supporting training to get the class IV license, and paying an honorarium to drivers.

Most systems needed support by local community service organizations to get going, and eventually did form their own society or charitable organization. I was glad to attend this forum and hear the experience of others. It helps that GERTIE is going to share their application for charitable status with us. This is going to be a critical step for us, as we do not have a local charity that can sponsor applications for funding.

Coming out of the Community Bus Forum is a coalition group that will share information and together look for a dedicated provincial wide staff person to develop policy frameworks for ways to work with BC Transit, find out how many rural people are not served by provincial/regional bus service, and suggest collaborative ways to get better service.

Perhaps there will also be a request for BC Transit to provide and service buses so as to get more robust vehicles, and also to look for a different regulatory system that are not public, nor private, but rather for community owned and managed systems.