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Zunga Bus receives reprieve from City of Powell River Council

On-demand pilot transit project gains three-month extension following 4-3 vote
DECISION REVERSED: City of Powell River’s Zunga Bus will continue in operation until March 31, after city councillors reversed a decision made in December that led to the service being discontinued as of January 1. At a special council meeting on January 2, several councillors brought forward a motion to reconsider that plight of the service.

City of Powell River’s on-demand Zunga Bus pilot project has received a temporary reprieve and will be back in service for three months.

At a special city council meeting on January 2, councillors reversed a decision made at a December 21 meeting to not continue with the service into 2024.

At the December 21 meeting, council considered a motion to continue the service. However, only six members were in attendance at the meeting, with councillor Cindy Elliott away on leave. The motion to continue the service was tied, with three councillors in favour and three opposed. With the tied vote, the motion failed.

At the January 2 meeting, there was a full complement of six councillors and the mayor to hear reconsideration of the defeated resolution.

Councillor Earl Almeida, prior to the reconsideration motion, said several emails had been sent to him and to councillors regarding him being in a conflict of interest, given that he and his family had ridden on the Zunga Bus. Almeida said he had examined the frequency that he had ridden the bus, and the total was six times in 14 months. He said his wife has used it five times over the last 12 months.

“I will not declare a conflict of interest,” said Almeida. “If I declared conflict of interest on the Zunga Bus, then we would have to elect a council that is completely housebound that doesn’t use the recreation complex, doesn’t use public transit, doesn’t use the sidewalks or the roads or any other service the city offers, such as the library.”

Almeida said he wanted to put his position on the record before discussion on the reconsideration motion took place.

Motion reconsidered

Council was then tasked to determine whether to allow the reconsideration motion to be brought forward before council. Deputy corporate officer Jessica Lefort told councillors the vote was not debatable.

Council voted to allow reconsideration of the motion, with councillors Trina Isakson, Rob Southcott, Elliott and Almeida in favour. Council then considered the motion that staff be directed to amend the 2023 five-year financial plan bylaw to add $4,200 in Zunga Bus revenue and $57,000 in Zunga Bus expenses funded by the climate action reserve in order to operate the service until March 31, and to provide public notification.

Service unfair, says Doubt

Doubt said the Zunga Bus is a service that is becoming more expensive and is available to only a privileged few in the city – people who live within the current footprint of the Zunga Bus. He said it doesn’t include anyone living in Wildwood, but the taxpayers in Wildwood pay taxes just the same as the taxpayers in Westview, where the bus service operates.

“It’s great to have a service that provides door-to-door transportation to anyone who wants it because there are people who need it,” said Doubt. He added, however, that people living in Townsite and Wildwood don’t have the service and are paying for it.

“Right now, it’s an unfair service and we are going to be looking at how to limit expenditures,” said Doubt.

He said council could be looking at whether to keep the Powell River Public Library open for its current hours or whether to cut the hours back. He said other potential budget cutting solutions for consideration include cutting Powell River Recreation Complex hours, and whether the Wildwood fire hall should be closed. Doubt said he was opposed to the reconsideration.

Southcott in support

Southcott said he supported the Zunga Bus because it is an investment in the future.

“We have great questions of sustainability,” said Southcott. “We’re not all going to have cars down the road. There is an increasing number of people who will depend on other ways of getting around. I am fully in favour of funding this investment.”

Mayor sees mistake

Mayor Ron Woznow said it would be a mistake to approve the motion. His recommendation was that if people feel strongly about the continuation of the Zunga Bus, they should go out and raise the money.

“I don’t want parents calling us because we had to shut down the hockey rink in order to balance the budget,” said Woznow. “I ask everyone to have an open mind and look at the cost and benefits of the Zunga Bus.”

Bus is needed, says Elliott

Elliott said she was in favour of the Zunga Bus because it is innovative and supports the community in a way that regular transit does not. She said it is difficult for young people to get to and from work, and the Zunga Bus provides services for seniors.

“It’s a critical addition to the public service that is needed in the community,” said Elliott. “People in the low to medium income bracket can no longer afford to necessarily have cars for everyone in their household.

“The Zunga Bus is award-winning, it’s dynamic, it’s future-thinking. BC Transit will probably eventually get around to funding it as well. Our cause is not helped by discontinuing the service.”

Council voted in favour of extending the Zunga Bus service, with Almeida, Isakson, Southcott and Elliott in favour.

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