Letter: GERTIE’s future

Tuesday, March 22 2016

I am grateful to Graham MacDonald for his graciousness in accepting the GERTIE referendum results.

I agree with his $9 to $11 per ride cost analysis. 

I personally am prepared to subsidize GERTIE riders to the tune of $9 to $11 per ride. I see commuters, elderly, disabled, youths and others with jobs but no cars, and elementary school children who otherwise have to be driven to school, all benefiting tremendously from this service. I believe that ridership will increase even more over time. Most trips on Gabriola cost this much, but we car owners bury it in the capital and operating costs of our vehicles.

But I too wish the cost per rider was less. What could we do to accomplish this? 

First, we could attempt to convert more Gabriolans who insist upon taking their cars to the ferry and the Village. We remain married to our cars. Hopefully in the next few years more of us will take advantage of what GERTIE has to offer. I hate to say this, but if it was more difficult for those who add to the ferry congestion, and more people had to pay to park at or near the ferry, we would see more GERTIE riders.

Second, we could make it easier and cheaper for people to use GERTIE. One of the ironies here is that while the cost to taxpayers would rise, the cost per rider would decrease dramatically. Would Gabriolans rather pay more on a cost per rider basis, or through taxes? That is the tough question.

Suppose the fare was reduced to $1.00 per ride. We would lose $15,000 in fares. But suppose ridership doubled to 30,000? We would recoup that $15,000 and the net cost would be the same. The cost per rider would go down to $5.00 per rider. Almost the same as on Salt Spring. Graham, would you be willing to pay a very little bit more on your tax bill to accomplish this? I would.

Suppose we went further and eliminated fares entirely. We would lose $30,000 in fares. But suppose the ridership increased fourfold? Suppose the total cost stayed at $166,000? If so, the cost per rider would be about $2.75. Pretty nice. (I recognize this may be unlikely because more people means bigger buses, more drivers, different schedules, etc.) Graham, would you be willing to pay just a bit more on your tax bill to accomplish this (say $10 per year for the average homeowner)? I would. 

As GERTIE moves forward, it is my hope that ideas like this will be tried, perhaps for a month or six, to test the effect on ridership and cost. It is only by trying pilot projects that we will be able to find the “sweet spot” where GERTIE can best serve the island. 

Two caveats: I have made some assumptions which may be incorrect, and my math is not good. Also, while I am a GERTIE driver and a “yes” voter, the views I express here are my own, not GERTIE’s.

~ Dick Hamilton