British Columbia

Southern Gulf Islands voters could get better transit — if they agree to a tax increase

The Southern Gulf Islands Transportation Referendum will ask voters on Galiano, Mayne, Saturna and Pender Islands if they’re in favour of increased property taxes, in exchange for the creation of a transit commission that would support bus and inter-island transportation.

If approved, Capital Regional District says it will collect additional $69 on average annually per household

Image shows a small white bus with the text "Mayne Island Community Bus."
The Mayne Island Community Bus is run by volunteers and funded by donations. If a referendum approves the creation and funding of a transit commission for the Southern Gulf Islands, the Mayne system could benefit — and others like it could be created. (Richard De Armond/Mayne Island Bus Society)

On Oct. 15, residents of four southern Gulf Islands will vote in a referendum that could see increased public, and active, transit in the region — in exchange for higher taxes. 

The islands — Galiano, Mayne, Pender, and Saturna — currently have no formal bus service, and narrow, winding roads without shoulders make it difficult to use climate-friendly modes of transportation. 

Some islands have shuttle buses run by volunteers, and in some cases there are trails that run alongside roads, but neither are widespread enough that people can choose them over driving their own greenhouse-gas-fuelled vehicles. 

Paul Brent is the incumbent Electoral Area Director for the Southern Gulf Islands, and supports the referendum. He says the only way to address climate change on the islands is to tackle the car. 

The image shows a rural road with one lane in each direction and no real shoulder. A pedestrian walks along the side of the road.
A pedestrian walks along the side of Sturdies Bay Road, the main route along Galiano Island. While there is a separate trail along some sections of the road, sections like this require pedestrians and cyclists to compete with cars. (Google Maps )

A "yes" vote on the referendum would not create a single bus service across the islands, but it would create a transit commission which would offer grants to community bus societies, as well as to support safety enhancements for roads: shoulders where cyclists could ride, for example. 

"Each island is different," said Brent, "and so the type of service is going to be tailored to each island." 

'Yes' vote means increased property taxes

If approved, the Capital Regional District would increase property taxes by a maximum of 14 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value — though the proposed 2023 budget would keep it just shy of 10 cents, leading to an extra $69/year in taxes for the average household.

Ben McConchie is also running to be the Southern Gulf Island's representative on the Capital Regional District. While he's in favour of improved public transit and climate solutions, he says he's against the referendum question. 

In addition to buses, the increased taxes are expected to fund trails, which McConchie says already have local funding sources. There's also a suggestion for an inter-island shuttle, which could operate more direct routes than those offered by B.C. Ferries — but McConchie, who commutes between Pender and Galiano for work, says the ferry is often near-empty, meaning there's little need for additional service. 

He says now is not the time to raise taxes for such a widespread list of offerings.

"If there is a demand for a bus service, let's just ask for the bus, then let's not add on every other thing and every other transportation method that we can imagine up in our dreams."

The referendum question was written after consultation, which began in 2021. Municipal election day is Oct. 15. 

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