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Okanagan elected officials challenged to rely on public transit for a full week

Transit advocates in the Okanagan are encouraging elected officials to get on the bus.

No, they don’t want them on a bus out of town, but they do want politicians to rely on the use of public transit for an entire week.

The challenge from the Okanagan Transit Alliance (OTA) means nothing but public transit to get around for seven days, from Monday, Jan. 29, until Sunday, Feb. 4.

According to the group, 15 mayors and councillors have already agreed to take on the challenge, but others have refused.

<who>Photo Credit: BC Transit

The OTA says this initiative is aimed at helping municipal politicians learn about what’s working, or not working, in their local transit systems.

It comes as some big decisions are set to be made about transit management in Kelowna, the Okanagan’s largest city, where daily transit operations are contracted out to a France-based private company.

According to the OTA, Kelowna’s transit workers are underpaid by TransDev compared with public systems and understaffing has led to service cuts in recent years.

The OTA also claims that there is little transparency or accountability with regards to how contracts are awarded and the performance of TransDev.

The group notes that it has requested information about the costs, performance and contract requirements for TransDev twice over the past year, but has been denied by BC Transit both times.

“It is alarming that a public service, funded with public dollars, is shrouded in secrecy,” says Kirstin Pulles, a member of the OTA’s steering committee.

With the current agreement between BC Transit and TransDev set to expire in April, the OTA is calling on the Regional District of Central Okanagan or a wider Okanagan regional transit team to assume management of the system.

Eric Sollard, an executive for the ATU Local 1722 representing transit workers in Kelowna, says TransDev continues to underpay workers despite reporting millions of dollars in profits.

“Our training retention rate is approximately 50%. It costs around $20,000 each to train a driver, just for them to leave for other transit systems with better pay and benefits,” Sollard explained.

“This year alone, the company has wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money training drivers who can’t afford to stay.”

Following the week-long challenge, there will be a wrap up and celebration at Railside Brewing in Kelowna from 6-8 pm on Feb. 4.

The OTA is encouraging any supporters of better transit to come enjoy free food, drinks and games with their community.

Here’s a list of elected officials across the Okanagan who have confirmed their participation in the upcoming transit challenge:

Kelowna

  • Councillor Gord Lovegrove
  • Councillor Luke Stack
  • Councillor Rick Webber
  • (Councillor Maxine DeHart is out of town and unable to participate, the OTA says)

Penticton

  • Councillor Amelia Boultbee
  • Councillor Campbell Watt
  • Councillor Helena Konanz
  • Councillor Isaac Gilbert

Salmon Arm

  • Mayor Alan Harrison
  • Councillor Louise Wallace Richmond

Summerland

  • Mayor Doug Holmes

Vernon

  • Councillor Brian Guy
  • Councillor Kelly Fehr
  • Councillor Teresa Durning

West Kelowna

  • Councillor Garrett Millsap
  • Councillor Stephen Johnston


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