Activists in Kelowna, B.C., are calling for management of the local bus system to be moved from private operators into public hands.
Kirstin Pulles, a member of the environmental activist group Fridays for Future Kelowna, says B.C. Transit should not renew its contract with Swedish company First Transit to run the Kelowna Regional Transit System, which is set to expire on March 31.
Instead, she says, the Crown corporation should give control to a team of "local decision makers" from across the region.
Pulles has started an online petition to build support for what she calls a Central Okanagan Transit Authority, which "would be more accountable, better funded, and keep the funds right here in our community," the petition says.
"Right now we have no say over who's in charge, who runs our system, who the contract goes to," Pulles told guest host Alya Ramadan on CBC's Daybreak South.
"It would be nice to have a little bit more democratic control, and also keep some of the money that's right now going into profits for that private company ... We want that money going into the transit system."
Pulles's petition, which had gained more than 400 signatures as of noon Wednesday, coincides with a survey presented to council on Monday indicating Kelowna residents' growing interest to boost investment in public transit.
The survey shows 65 per cent of city residents agree that reducing dependence on cars is the long-term solution for traffic congestion, a nine per cent jump from the last survey in 2019.
At the same time, 59 per cent of respondents believed building more roads is the long-term solution for traffic congestion, an eight per cent increase from 2019.
Survey results were based on a randomly selected sample of 300 adult residents in Kelowna who were interviewed on the phone Nov. 14-25, 2022. The margin of error for the random sample of 300 is +/- 5.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Poor transit makes traffic worse, advocate says
Pulles founded Free Transit Ottawa, an advocacy group for affordable public transit services, while pursuing her undergraduate degree at Carleton University.
Now studying a master's program in community engagement, social change and equity at the University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus, Pulles says bus services in the Central Okanagan are worse than in Canada's capital.
She says poor transit service has forced more people to buy cars and, as a result, has made traffic worse.
"I moved to Kelowna in September, and I was planning not to buy a car. And then I learned that that wasn't going to be the case, because the buses don't show up very often, the bus stops are few and far between," she said.
She argues that putting transit under the supervision of elected officials will be a more effective way to improve the situation because they are held accountable by voters but private companies aren't.
Kelowna Coun. Gord Lovegrove says he supports the idea of improving public transit across the Okanagan Valley.
"We have an inequitable transport system ... and we need to improve if we're really serious about climate action in our valley," said Lovegrove, who is also an UBCO civil engineering professor specializing in sustainable transport. "We need to improve the way we get around to be cleaner, greener, safer, more affordable and equitable."
He said he won't sign Pulles's petition because, as an elected official, he needs to keep an open mind on public discussions.
In an emailed statement to CBC News, B.C. Transit says contracting private companies to operate transit services continues to be the most appropriate model for the Central Okanagan's transit system.
It said its representatives will meet Fridays for Future Kelowna in the coming weeks.