Emotions ran high as council reinstated late-night bus service on all routes on Wednesday.
It was a 5-4 split vote, the closest over the six days of debate, that ultimately put the bus back on the road for half-hour service after it was reduced to hourly service after 10:45 p.m. in 2012.
A rare heated exchange between Councillors Tanya Handley and Lynne Mulder showed the severity of the decision.
Handley said it is premature to make “emotional” decisions until the city has concrete data on ridership and the Transit Master Plan.
“We need to wait,” said Handley. “I understand the emotional argument. I feel it but my head says let’s wait and get it right so we are not doing the same thing to people again. We’re not putting it into place and pulling it out when we look at the master plan.”
Mulder said she took exception to it being “an emotional decision.”
“I’ve heard you on many occasions be extremely emotional about the public,” said Mulder. “I would just say I believe in the riders and the information. The people who I talk to would like this service reinstated. I take exception to the words ‘emotional decision.’”
Mulder said this time slot is extremely important for those people who work nights.
“It is meeting a need in our community for a vulnerable group of people and I think we have an obligation to do that,” said Mulder.
Transit manager George Penny told council he could not justify putting the service back on the road.
The city is waiting on data that will give a clearer picture on ridership including frequency, locations and time of day on all routes. This data is expected to come some time in the third quarter this year.
“We will have that data in the future but making that decision now is tough,” said Penny.
It was Coun. Paul Harris who asked council to reinstate the service. He was backed by Councillors Ken Johnston, Buck Buchanan, and Dianne Wyntjes along with Mulder. He said it provides quality of life to the people who use the service in many ways.
“I think about the people who ride at this hour,” said Harris. “These are people who typically do not have cars. They rely on our public transit to get to and from work. So we have reduced our budget but we have increased theirs. A lot of people who need transit live in the outskirts of our community because that is where the most affordable housing is. It shows a respect to our community for people who need transit the most.”
Mayor Veer, along with Councillors Frank Wong, Lawrence Lee and Handley were opposed.
Veer said this council has made a strong investment in transit. She said she could not support the move because spending the money feels out of step without the Transit Master Plan. She said there could be other areas to invest in transit.
Transit rider Cherise Piercy collected 482 signatures in 2012 and another 47 signatures recently over one week calling on reinstatement of the service. Piercy was in chambers for the decision.
Piercy said she has waited for this day since the service was eliminated four years ago.
“Yes,” said Piercy, who did not hold back her feelings. “We need it back. We got it back. I knew we needed it back.”
The $78,327 expenditure will bring the proposed tax rate up to 3.11 per cent, up .07 per cent from Tuesday. It also adds $156,673 to the 2017 operating budget.
That means a homeowner of a house assessed at $325,000 will pay $5 more a month or $60 more annually on his or her property tax bill. A 2016 bill would ring in at $1,990 compared to $1,930 in 2015.
Budget deliberations continue today at 10 a.m.