Will a Greater Victoria transit authority lead to regional rail?

Taking transit in the Greater Victoria region can be a great way to get around — if you live near a route with frequent bus service.

But service is so sparse in some areas outside the region’s core that some people would have to drive to get to their nearest bus stop, says transit user Emily Lowan, who lived in rural Saanich when CBC interviewed her earlier this year.

“The vast majority of car users and people that we need using our transit systems just don’t have that accessibility [of a nearby bus stop],” said Lowan, who has advocated for improved transit in the region as a climate campaigner and a member of the University of Victoria’s student government.

She added that she’d like to see frequency and late-night bus service improved, as well.

A smiling caucasian woman with shoulder-length brown hair.
Emily Lowan is a transit user in Greater Victoria. (submitted by Emily Lowan)

There are now hopes that such improvements — and more — could soon be in the works as the Capital Regional District (CRD), the regional body that represents 13 municipalities in Greater Victoria, considers creating a transit authority.

Transit advocates told CBC’s This is Vancouver Island podcast that this could someday lead to new modes of transit like light rail, but added that even smaller upgrades like rapid-bus lanes could make service better for everyone.

This is Vancouver Island14:09Could this be the beginning of Greater Victoria’s light rail dream?

Two local transit advocates talk about plans for a new regional transit body in Greater Victoria — plans the mayor of Saanich says could one day lead to an actual, funded plan to build light rail. Plus: they tell us about their favourite bus stops. Yes, they have favourite bus stops.

The CRD began looking late last year at establishing an authority that would make planning and transit decisions on behalf of the region, as well as advocating for infrastructure funding — like TransLink does in Metro Vancouver.

The hope, according to Saanich Mayor Dean Murdoch, is that a regional authority could push more effectively for bigger projects, such as a funded plan to create a light rail system.

“I think one of the biggest barriers to us being successful with that type of infrastructure investment is the lack of co-ordination. … we very quickly splinter into 13 different communities with different priorities and can’t unify behind a single infrastructure investment like a light rail transit system,” said Murdoch, who chairs the CRD’s transportation committee.

By way of example, he recalled how B.C. Transit — the Crown corporation that oversees public transportation in B.C. outside of Metro Vancouver — proposed a light rail link between downtown Victoria and the West Shore about a decade ago, but it received pushback by those who thought the region did not have a large enough population.

A white man with blond hair smiles into the camera. He is wearing a blue button-up shirt and a blue blazer with a pocket square.
Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock says while communities in the region have local transit agencies, having a regional authority would make planning, decision-making and pushing for investments in public transportation more effective. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC )

“I’m not prophesizing that we’re going to have [light rail] in the CRD in the next five years, but I think that’s the kind of strategic investment that we would be able to secure that we haven’t had success doing by operating as independent bodies,” he added, saying the authority would include representatives from local governments as well as B.C. Transit.

Transit user Khadoni Pitt Chambers, who lives in urban Saanich in the region’s core, says regional light rail would be ideal — but that the system could be improved in simpler ways, too. 

A smiling person with an afro.
Khadoni Pitt Chambers advocated for improved transit when they ran for Victoria council in 2022. (submitted by Khadoni Pitt Chambers)

Dedicated bus lanes are the key to making transit more usable, says Pitt Chambers, who has advocated for better transit options as a community researcher and city council candidate.

Right now, there are some sections of major roads that have dedicated bus lanes, but Pitt Chambers said it would be “a huge game-changer” to make those lanes continuous. 

That would allow buses to move quicker than cars in and out of populous suburbs like the region’s West Shore — and when buses more faster than cars, commuters switch to public transit. 

Bus lanes could also be transitioned to light rail pathways if such an infrastructure project goes forward. 

A bright yellow road sign indicates a bus lane.
A sign indicating a bus lane on Douglas Street in Victoria is shown in a photo from February. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC )

Both Lowan and Pitt Chambers agreed that a regional transit authority could help make improvements happen — but they urged politicians to make sure such a group includes the voices of transit users.

“The governance model has to … be incorporating the voices of people who are really taking transit, and transit users from all different walks of life,” said Pitt Chambers. 

Tune into This is Vancouver Island every Tuesday on CBC Listen or wherever you get your podcasts.

A purple banner with the words "this is Vancouver Island"
This is Vancouver Island is a new podcast from CBC Victoria. (CBC )


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