Transit service: Penticton to Kelowna AAP

  • Posted on: 20 July 2018
  • By: Michael Brydon

From time to time BC Transit does a study and decides this or that route would be worth establishing. Recently, BC Transit decided a Penticton-Kelowna route would make sense.1  This is good news for the South Okanagan because BC Transit (read: taxpayers in the rest of British Columbia) heavily subsidizes rural transit routes.  I don't have the exact numbers on hand, but think of the cost of each ride being allocated roughly in this way:

  • BC Transit pays 50%
  • local taxpayers pay 40%
  • riders (through their fares) pay 10%


Transit is clearly not user-pay.  Transit in this region is about 90% subsidy (versus closer to 50% subsidy in Vancouver2).  Like everyone else, I see the empty buses around Penticton and wonder if any subsidy is warranted.  A single one-way trip along the new BC Transit/RDOS route to OK Falls costs local taxpayers about $30.  It would be cheaper to scrap the service and book an Uber for anyone wanting to make the trip3.   And Uber is door-to-door on demand!

But, on the other hand, the local subsidy is smaller than the BC Transit subsidy and it is very hard to turn down free money.  The deciding factor for me in voting in favor of the Penticton-Kelowna service is that the service might actually be useful for some people.  I don't think it will be particularly popular for students attending UBCO or OK College in Kelowna.  No student wants to spend 4 hours/day on a bus (longer if Peachland and West Kelowna buy into the service and demand stops of their own 4).  However, I am sure others will make use of the service for less-routine trips for shopping, the Kelowna hospital, and so on.

The next step in moving this forward is public assent for the establishment of a transit service.  Basically, citizens have to give the RDOS permission to create a service area (a map of properties showing who pays and who does not pay) and set an upper bound on the tax rate.  The proposed service area, as it currently stands, includes the entire RDOS (including the Similkameen).  This is because RDOS board members from the Similkameen see the Penticton-Kelowna route as a complement to existing services from their areas into Penticton.  In principle, one will be able to take a (heavily subsidized) transit bus from Princeton to Kelowna.

There are two ways to obtain public assent:  A full referendum (opt in) or alternative approval process (opt out).  In my view, a full referendum on this issue would be a tragic waste of time and money.  The stakes are very low.  According to RDOS staff estimates, here is the per-household cost of the subsidy for the route:

Given this, the RDOS board has decided to move forward with an alternative approval process in which people who really cannot stand the thought of paying $4/year5 to subsidize a Penticton-Kelowna bus route can register their objection.  If enough people are of the same mind, the RDOS must either abandon the service area or call a full-scale referendum on the issue.

Details of the alternative approval process are below.  Note that the deadline for registering opposition is August, 31, 2018.

AAP information sheet

Please let me know if you have any questions about this.

1 BC Transit's expansion into inter-urban routes is one of the reasons cited by Greyhound for Grexit (Greyhound's decision to cease operations in BC).

2 The Vancouver (and even Kelowna) situations are a bit different than ours in the South Okanagan due to the heavier congestion and parking issues in those cities.  Non-users of transit in big cities have strong incentives to subsidize transit use by other people because, if other people are taking transit, they are not clogging roads or hogging all the best parking spots. 

3 Oh yeah, BC does not have Uber. Pretty much the only place on the planet that doesn't allow it.  I guess BC residents can't be trusted to handle it.

4 The Peachland portion of Highway 97 between Penticton-Kelowna is a major bottleneck and embarrassment.  I see it as a significant impediment to investment in the Okanagan south of the Coquihalla/Okanagan Connector junction.  There are apparently plans to fix this stretch of highway, but it will be many years before we see any action.

5 This is an average.  Everyone pays the same rate per $1,000 of assessed value (land + improvements).  But assessed values tend to be higher in Area F than most other areas, so we pay more (on average) than most other areas.


BC Transit's estimated details for the Penticton-Kelowna transits service are in the March 15th board package  (Community Services Committee starting p. 18)