Imagine a breathtaking island community where golden sunsets, towering trees, and thriving coastal waters allure residents and tourists alike. However, beneath this paradise, a pressing challenge looms over its transportation system, impeding progress on accessibility and environmental sustainability while jeopardizing the cherished natural vistas.
During a recent trip to Cowichan Lake, I witnessed glaring transportation issues on a mid-July weekend. Lanes were congested with solo commuters seeking refuge from the bustling South Island. Campsites at recreational facilities overflowed with four, five, and even six vehicles for a similar number of campers. Despite over 70 available sites, not one was occupied by a walk-in, cyclist, or transit user. Surprisingly, despite being a mere 100km away from the island's largest population center, Victoria, there's no public transportation option to access the campground.
The Need for Change - The Malahat(e)
This is a critical problem, as both our population and the desire to access natural spaces continue to grow. We must seize the opportunity to explore world-class natural spots on the island without solely relying on private vehicles. Not too long ago, the island made headlines for its dismal public transit network. The time for change has come – a transportation and cultural shift that can positively impact the island's future. Major arteries like the Malahat suffer from significant bottlenecks primarily due to personal vehicle travel. While some may consider roadway expansion the only feasible solution, we can create a well-researched alternative by establishing frequent and affordable bus services presenting measurable positive impacts on transit across the Malahat.
Embracing an Inclusive Transit System
Regardless of our preferences in transportation, we should all strive to create a province where access to mobility isn't a barrier but a gateway to opportunity. Our collective consciousness seems to equate personal vehicles with ultimate freedom – a belief that has marginalized seniors, students, people with disabilities, and others without access to private vehicles, limiting their mobility within their home province. A thriving BC is one where mobility is a right, not a privilege. By embracing an improved bus transit system, we can bridge gaps in mobility and create more inclusive communities. Transit equity means ensuring no one is left behind, allowing everyone to easily reach their workplaces, schools, leisure spots, and essential services.
Ecological Preservation and Climate Change Mitigation
The reason so many call this place home and others yearn to do the same lies in its natural beauty. We share a collective responsibility to preserve it for future generations. From towering trees to expansive valleys and rugged coastlines, the island offers something for everyone. Transitioning to a reliable and sustainable transit network provides an opportunity not only to reduce our carbon footprint but also to embrace clean energy technologies and protect our environment. By prioritizing private vehicle access over the larger public good, we have contributed to environmental damage. One of the goals of the Clean BC Roadmap to 2030 is to reduce the number of private vehicles on the roads by 25 percent across the province. We can achieve this by creatively implementing alternative solutions to the current status quo.
Improving Transit in Tourist Destinations
Tofino, a jewel of the island, attracts tourists from far and wide, with some travelling from the other side of the planet to bask in its sunsets at the end of the road. However, due to a lack of access, roads in high season are often congested, parking lots packed, and the tranquil beauty of the Pacific Rim can feel more like an amusement park than a protected natural area. Offering a convenient, eco-friendly alternative can reduce congestion, preserve picturesque landscapes, and promote sustainable tourism. During July and August, Tofino hosts an average of 6,600 visitors each day - how many arrive by private vehicle with not much more than a suitcase and a backpack for a long weekend of fun? Let's explore publicly funded park bus services with sufficient storage capacity for surfboards, tents, and other items typically associated with personal vehicles.
Addressing Transit Gaps in Rural Areas
Tucked away in the rainforest near the mouth of the Juan de Fuca and Port San Juan lies Port Renfrew. Despite a lack of transit options, this community receives countless surfers, hikers, and photographers every year. Despite its relative proximity to Greater Victoria and the Cowichan Valley, residents must rely on private vehicles to access services located outside of town. Furthermore, those who wish to access the area have no alternatives to the growing congestion on the route beyond an expensive private trail bus. The presence of a private service where there should be a public good indicates a need for improved transportation through the corridor. Transit accessibility should not be driven by the path of least resistance or profit but by empowering anyone with mobility. Connecting rural areas is about public safety, equity, and accessibility, especially for vulnerable populations such as indigenous women and those within the 2SLGBTQ community.
The Dedicated Right of Way to a Better Future
We stand on the cusp of a transportation revolution that will define the island's future. Sacrificing irreplaceable ecological areas for the convenience of personal vehicle access should not even be a debate - especially when viable alternatives are both more effective and cost-efficient for both taxpayers and the health of our home. In fact- for every dollar invested in public transportation, communities generate four dollars in economic activity. Let's prioritize accessibility, sustainability, and inclusivity while building a future where everyone can thrive. If our vision for a successful transportation network is solely motivated by profit, we will never achieve transit equity. The ability to connect cities, regions, and communities regardless of distance will most likely never be profitable. Public transportation should not exist through a profit lens; instead, we should view our ROI as the enhancement of community connection, improved access to amenities and natural spaces, enhanced tourism, reduced emissions, and a paradigm shift in how we perceive transportation in our region and province.
This is the fourth blog in a series on transportation equity in the region.
Published: July 26, 2023
Khadoni Pitt Chambers, Research Coordinator
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