E-bike are being lauded as a game changer for getting commuters to make the shift from cars to active transportation. And, to help more people choose an e-bike as a way to get around, the province is offering rebates to all British Columbians over 19. Based on income, rebates range from $350 to $1,400, with $6 million available to subsidize as many as 9,000 e-bike purchases.
The program will be administered by the Scrap-It Society.
Efficient regional transportation is one of the keys to attracting and retaining workers. E-bikes also produce less emissions than motor vehicles as well as being a healthier alternative for commuters — especially those with sedentary jobs.
If you're interested, check out Chamber members who supply or service e-bikes.
A well-known ride-sharing brand has been approved to begin operations in Greater Victoria, the company announced today.
Uber Canada had been awaiting a decision by the Passenger Transportation Board to allow a licence transfer from a company that had been approved previously but was never operational. The news is welcomed by Greater Victoria's tourism and hospitality sectors.
"The Chamber wrote to the PTB in support of Uber," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Our members have been clear that they want ride-sharing options here, and that we need to have international brands available."
Adding Uber to Greater Victoria also benefits many late-night workers who have found it challenging to get home after their shifts. Transit is a great option to get to work, but does not operate late enough for many people working in Victoria restaurants and bars. Having the option to take an Uber home means that staff have a reliable and safe way to get home.
"Over the next few weeks, we will work hard to ensure a smooth transition and activate our platform for drivers and riders as soon as possible," Uber said in a letter to The Chamber. "Thank you for everything you have done to get us here. We achieved this milestone because of your strong support and advocacy."
Creating more housing supply is key to making Greater Victoria more economically sustainable. Employers need staff, and employees need to be able to afford where they live. With homes in high demand in our region, we need all levels of government to be part of the solution.
The Chamber applauds the recent decision by the District of Saanich to create more homes in the municipality. The New Small Apartment Infill Zone will allow single-family lots to be redeveloped as multi-unit apartments. There are guidelines to ensure the zoning is used on appropriate lots.
“We have heard that there’s an interest in building these in Saanich,” Saanich Mayor Dean Murdoch told the Times Colonist. “We’ve got a very large university and college campuses in Saanich and there’s a desire to build housing types like this that would serve that student population.”
The Tofino Bus is returning to service starting May 4, the Wilson's Group of Companies announced last week. The service was paused in December as the company needed to shift to a seasonal approach to stay sustainable. The drop in passengers taking the bus over the winter was too much for the company to subsidize the service based on summer revenue.
The Tofino Bus and Vancouver Island Connector service will re-start with weekend service from Thursdays to Mondays, and could ramp up to seven days a week in June. “We expect to see lower passenger counts to start, however, we typically see a rise around the May long weekend which lasts throughout most of the summer” Wilson’s Group of Companies Brand Manager Samantha Wilson-Newton said.
The Chamber applauds the increased connectivity for Island communities, and continues to call on government to invest in safe transportation options.
It was a warm welcome on a cold morning as the first cruise ship of 2023 in Canadian waters pulled into Ogden Point yesterday.
“It’s great to have the cruise ships back because of the economic boom that it brings to the city,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told Black Press. “People disperse around the region — they stay downtown, they go to Butchart Gardens, they go to other attractions around (Greater Victoria) and they bring that whole energy that we need to get us back into the swing of things.”
The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority expects 850,000 passengers will visit Greater Victoria aboard 330 ships between now and October. The 209-foot Sapphire Princess can carry 2,600 passengers.
The industry injects about $130 million into our regional economy, helping many businesses beyond those that cater directly to passengers.
The next ship arrives April 21. And regardless of the temperature, it's a clear sign that business is heating up for our hospitality and tourism sectors.
Last week, the province announced it was contributing $9 million for the GHVA's efforts to bring shore power to their facilities. That will allow ships to use electricity rather than generators, cutting down on emissions and noise in the neighbourhood.
A new era for rapid transit in Greater Victoria began this week with the launch of BC Transit's Blink RapidBus Route 95. The first of the orange-topped buses hit the road Monday, taking passengers from Downtown Victoria to Langford. The new route replaces Route 50 and promises more convenient service with buses running every seven to eight minutes in peak times.
"Rapid transit takes time to implement, so while this modest step will increase our service levels, frequency and reliability for customers, more infrastructure is needed to make Blink RapidBus even faster," states BC Transit's website.
In a big win for business, sustainability and Chamber advocacy, the provincial government announced today it was moving forward to bring shore power to Ogden Point.
Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming, MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake, announced $9 million for the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. The money will be used for planning and installation of infrastructure that will let cruise ships turn off their engines while docked by enabling access to electricity from BC Hydro.
GVHA expects 320 cruise ships this season, carrying 850,000 passengers.
“Innovation led by business is key to addressing the biggest challenges facing our community and our planet,” Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Williams said. “Adding shore power to Ogden Point benefits people living nearby. It also shows how the cruise ship industry is adapting to public demand and embracing new ways of doing business. The Chamber has a long history of working closely with all levels of government and the cruise industry. We are grateful for the work of Minister Fleming to help champion this important project for our region.”
GVHA has been working on plans for shore power with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, BC Hydro, the cruise industry and the City of Victoria.
“Today’s funding announcement by the Province of British Columbia is key to launching the next phase of this important initiative,” GVHA CEO Robert Lewis-Manning said. “Shore power is one of several initiatives supporting a sustainable working port cherished by the Lekwungen people, residents and visitors alike."
The court-imposed deadline for deciding the future of the Island rail corridor arrived yesterday, but there is still much work to be done to decide the fate of the former E&N Rail line.
"In September 2021, the British Columbia Court of Appeal asked the federal government to decide by March 14, 2023, on restoring the railway corridor or allowing a segment of lands to vest in Canada for the use and benefit of the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation," said a joint statement by the federal and provincial governments, explaining that the decision was made to return 11.4 acres to the Snaw-Naw-As.
The corridor still has tremendous potential for Vancouver Island, which is expected to reach a population of more than one million people in the next decade.
“To that end, we are committing $18 million to allow for future corridor planning involving affected First Nations and regional districts," BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming said. "The funding will also allow First Nations to assess identified concerns such as flooding, access, noise, or safety issues where the corridor crosses their land."
The Island Corridor Foundation had been waiting for the governments to announce their intention, and will now begin reviewing options for the best use of this important transportation link.
Parking in downtown Victoria is one of those topics that has sparked debate in coffee shops, board rooms and council chambers for decades. Whether its a frustrated driver searching for an open spot or a cyclist lamenting car-centric culture, it seems we all have an opinion on parking.
That said, compromise is unavoidable if we want to make progress as a region on this extremely complex issue. Parking has been in the news recently as the City of Victoria looks to raise revenue to cover rising expenses. One idea council is considering is to expand the hours that drivers are required to pay for street parking.
Another recent story involving parking involves plans by Merchant House Capital to build a 12-storey tower with 160 rental units on Douglas Street where the heritage Victoria Press Building (former home of the Times Colonist) is located. Currently, the plans state that no parking will be provided for the rental units. The proposal will go to the neighbourhood community at a meeting on March 20 before a formal proposal is submitted for municipal approval.
Meanwhile, another important project that could add 1,500 much-needed homes in downtown Victoria has taken an unexpected turn. The duly considered proposal by Starlight Investments for Harris Green has passed third reading but now has additional amendments to parking requirements that need to be addressed before the plan is adopted.
"I know that Victoria city council has agreed that housing supply is a top priority for residents of the entire region, of which downtown is an important part of," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "And we know that part of the attraction of living downtown is its proximity to the many services and experiences in neighbouring municipalities. It's one thing to walk or cycle to work on weekdays, but many people use their weekends to shop outside the city proper, or to visit forests and beaches that are a short car ride away."
Regardless of personal opinions about parking, the fact is we continue to require it — for residents, delivery drivers and commuters. Parents need vehicles to transport kids from care and school to sports and activities. Seniors and others with mobility issues use vehicles to get from point to point, and often require parking close to their destination.
With the adoption of zero emission standards and accelerating shift to electric vehicles, opinions about the future of driving are shifting. Care needs to be taken before we lose a resource that is vital to commerce, and that will be essentially impossible to get back when it's gone.
BC Budget 2023 addresses symptoms of unaffordability but offers little help for business
Yesterday, the 2023 budget was released with a focus on addressing many of the symptoms of unaffordability affecting British Columbians. However, there was a lack of new investment aimed at improving the province’s business climate.
The Chamber is traditionally the first business association to host the finance minister after the unveiling of the province's annual budget and BC Finance Minister Katrine Conroy addressed more than 100 business and community leaders today at the Hotel Grand Pacific.
Among the highlights of BC Budget 2023 are $1 billion in new money for mental health and addiction services, new funding to improve food security and the $480 million Future Ready Plan, which will help employees gain the skills needed by employers.
The province is forecasting deficits for the next three years but has chosen to increase spending this year.
Minister Conroy said global inflation and the lingering effects of the pandemic are contributing to systemic challenges that make life less affordable for British Columbians.
In the next 30 days, the $3.6 billion surplus left over from last year needs to be spent and will be used for a number of projects currently in the works. Details of that spending will be made available in the coming weeks.
“The Chamber has heard from our members that they need help finding and keeping workers, and they want more done to ensure safe communities for all,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said, noting there are also annual increases to the Carbon Tax, which will add to the cost of doing business. “This budget will help by addressing symptoms of unaffordability through the renter’s tax credit, school food programs and a significant increase to healthcare funding. It’s a start but we would have liked to see BC Budget 2023 give a higher profile to the role business plays in improving the quality of life for all British Columbians. Businesses are the ones who make the investments needed to build resilience and create real solutions to affordability.”
Employers need employees, so there's reason to applaud initiatives that make our region more attractive as a place to live, work and raise a family. Making neighbourhoods more accessible for people to walk or cycle to work, and making those routes safer, are steps in the right direction.
“We know that people make healthier, greener transportation choices when the options are there,” said Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming, who serves as Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Last week, the province announced $20 million in funding for the Active Transportation Infrastructure Grants program to help cover costs of multi-use pathways, protected bike lanes, pedestrian bridges and regional connections, as well as lighting, sidewalks and other safety improvements. Greater Victoria projects include:
It's Budget Season for all levels of government. After the province reveals BC Budget 2023 on Feb. 28, the federal government will announce its own budget at some point in the following weeks. Municipalities in BC don't have the same flexibility, with legislation requiring financial plans be adopted by March 31 and tax rate bylaws before May 15.
The Chamber is working to remind Greater Victoria municipalities that they need to support their community's businesses through fair taxation. We encourage Chamber members to get involved with their local government through however they can. In the City of Victoria, for example, Council is asking The Chamber for member feedback on a 6.96% increase to residential property taxes that's largely the result of inflation. While that's down from the almost 9% increase initially proposed in January, there might be more opportunities to find efficiencies.
Businesses that pay property taxes in Victoria are urged to voice their formal feedback by:
If you have questions or concerns about municipalities outside Victoria, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. And watch for more coverage on The Chamber's budget advocacy on social media and in upcoming editions of BizNews.
The planned RapidBus route between the West Shore and downtown Victoria will be a game changer for commuters when it launches April 10.
The service will run every 15 minutes, making the ride more convenient. That's key for convincing people to leave their cars at home. Buses will run between 7am and 10pm Monday to Saturday and 8am to 10pm on Sundays. There will be additional buses during peak times on weekdays to improve customer experience, BC Transit said.
"Smart regional transportation is important for businesses that depend on staff being able to get to the workplace," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Taking the bus instead of a car is much better environmentally, especially with BC Transit's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its fleet."
Housing supply is a hot topic as many regions compete for skilled workers. The demand is especially high for homes accessible to people who earn a living in Greater Victoria's economy. One of the solutions is to think about workforce housing as an investment that directly benefits our region's employers. Last week, BC Housing announced the Capital Regional District Housing Corporation project in the City of Langford is now open. The five-storey wood-framed building at 2782 Spencer Rd. includes 58 rental units for families and individuals.
BC Housing also announced 72 new units in the City of Victoria — 51 affordable housing and 21 supportive units — are open at 210 Gorge Rd. in partnership with the Cool Aid Society. A five-storey wood-framed building as well, the Victoria site includes ground-floor offices that include supports that will help residents become more employable and make the community safer.
“We are already seeing the positive impact of this unique project," Victoria Cool Aid Society CEO Kathy Stinson said in a news release. "Families, single people, seniors and people who need supports are getting to know one another, which is having the desired effect of helping to reduce the stigma around homelessness and creating a sense of community for everyone who lives there.”
On Feb. 14, The Chamber facilitated a Zoom session with Paul Robinson of the Vancouver Island Transportation Corridor Coalition and Larry Stevenson, CEO of the Island Corridor Foundation.
Members of chambers from across Vancouver Island attended to listen and ask questions about the corridor's future. It's currently uncertain as a March 14 court-imposed deadline looms. In 2021, the BC Court of Appeals gave the federal and provincial governments 18 months to renew their commitment to improve the infrastructure required for rail. The deadline was triggered by a lawsuit launched by the Snaw-naw-as First Nation. They want to reclaim the land that runs through their territory, arguing the right-of-way granted by Canada in 1912 is no longer being used as intended.
Island communities enjoyed rail service for more than 100 years, until it was suspended indefinitely in 2011. Since then, a vocal group of train enthusiasts, environmentalists and transportation planners have been calling for a modern passenger train that will reduce the number of cars and transport trucks on Island highways, cut greenhouse gas emissions and offer an alternative for commuters.
Island communities have also lost inter city bus service creating yet another barrier to safe travel for people who can't access a vehicle. The Chamber has asked the Federal Government to subsidize a return of that service.
There are a few fresh faces on the Victoria Regional Transit Commission. On Monday, the province appointed six new people to the commission:
The transit commission decides on fares, routes and service levels as well as distribution of its share of revenue raised from taxes on fuel and property.
A transformative housing development is going to the City of Victoria for approvals this week. The proposal for Harris Green Village includes 1,500 suites and more than 100,000 square-feet of commercial and retail space.
The neighbourhood, adjacent to downtown Victoria, is considered an up-and-coming-area of the city. The proposal by Starlight Investments goes to Public Hearing on Feb. 9, for council to consider an amendment to the Official Community Plan and rezoning for 1045 Yates St. and the 900-block, as well as a development permit for Phase 1.
"We know our region needs housing supply and this is a significant opportunity to create much needed rental homes in an area that has a lot of appeal," said Chamber CEO Bruce Williams, who is speaking at the hearing via video on behalf of the need for housing.
Join The Chamber for a discussion with the Vancouver Island Transportation Corridor Coalition and Island Corridor Foundation on the work done towards identifying the need for, and public interest in, reinstating Island Rail Service.
"The provincial government is quickly approaching a critical decision point and must provide an answer on the future of the Island corridor by March 14," said coalition representative Paul Robinson, noting that reinstating Island rail service could help the Island's tourism economy and get more vehicles off the roads. "VITCC believes that rail is, by far, the most equitable mode of ground-based transportation as there are no age, health, ability, income impediments, and no requirements for vehicle operator ownership, licensing, and associated expenses."
The Chamber will be leading the discussion on rail as part of our role in The Island Chamber Advocacy Alliance, connecting business across the Island.
This free, virtual event is open to members of Chambers across Vancouver Island.
Island Corridor Foundation: Member since 2020
Changing times create disruption but also present tremendous opportunities for forward-thinking organizations. The tide of high inflation has highlighted the need to create more resilient local production and supply networks.
Groceries are a good example of the need for investment in suppliers located closer to home. The provincial government's Buy BC program and the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance's Island Good shows the value of supporting innovation led by business.
On Monday, BuyBC hosted an event in Victoria called Every Chef Needs a Farmer, Every Farmer Needs a Chef. Among the exhibitors was Finest at Sea Ocean Products.
"There is clear evidence of the value that bring local brings to a community, but it's not always top of mind when we're at the grocery story purchasing produce for our families," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The Buy BC and Island Good programs makes it easier to remember the value in buying local, both in terms of freshness and health as well as in ensuring local farmers feel they are supported so they can take the risks needed to build their business."
Housing remains a drag on the vitality of our region, though overall quality of life in Greater Victoria has improved.
According to the 2022 Vital Signs Report, released this week, Greater Victoria's grade has moved up from a B grade last year to a B+ this year.
Housing earned an F grade this year, a significant drop from a D+ last year.
"Vital Signs is a great check up on our region's economy, and The Chamber was happy to contribute as a community partner this year," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The grades are a good way to illustrate concepts that contribute to our overall quality of life."
It's the 19th edition of the annual report, which uses surveys as well as stories and graphics to provide snapshots of the past year.
This year's theme asked What Does Community Mean To You? Respondents rated the natural environment and climate as the best things about Greater Victoria. The aforementioned Housing crisis and cost of living were the two most important issues, according to the survey.
The report looks at 12 areas, with grades ranging from a B-plus for Learning and Sports and Recreation, to an F for Housing and a C- for Health and Wellness.
After a trying two years, the cruise ship sector made a spectacular comeback in Greater Victoria. The 2022 season was the best yet recorded, with 329 cruise ships stopping at Ogden Point.
The industry was shut down as the pandemic hit. The stoppage even raised questions about whether ships would be back in Victoria, but hard work and effective advocacy by the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and The Chamber has paid off.
Next year could be even better. GVHA CEO Ian Robertson told the Times Colonist he's predicting one million cruise ship passengers will visit Victoria in 2023. That would be a leap from the 715,000 arrivals this year, but cruise operators are excited about being back in our region. There are 340 ships already confirmed, Robertson said.
Before this year, the record for most visits was 257 in 2019.
The RapidBus service between the West Shore and downtown Victoria is expected to launch in early 2023. Construction on Douglas Street is ongoing, BC Transit said.
"RapidBus is transit service that outperforms the personal automobile in speed, comfort and reliability," states BC Transit's website. "It is connected, frequent, fast and reliable."
The idea is to provide faster and more convenient transit to encourage more people to use the bus to commute. The goal is to go from 80,000 daily transit users today to 200,000 by 2038.
The project is included in the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure's South Island Transportation Strategy, released in 2020.
Better transit is one solution for improving transportation planning in Greater Victoria — something The Chamber continues to advocate for.
As we mark the start of fall, tourism and hospitality businesses can look back on a successful summer.
A return of customers kept many restaurants operating at capacity, though they did face other constraints. A lack of staff and a public sector strike that made stocking liquor a challenge cast a shadow on a season that many businesses rely on to make it through slower seasons.
Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant & Food Services Association told CHEK News that many Victoria restaurants operated with 80% of their staff.
The accommodation sector also enjoyed strong season. The latest Victoria Tourism Bulletin from Chemistry Consulting reports that occupancy rates in July were up from 2021 and close to 2018 levels. The average rate for a room was $305 in July, up from $230 in July 2021 and $250 in July 2019.
BC Ferries also reported a return to pre-pandemic levels in vehicles, though there were fewer passengers and buses onboard in July.
The Victoria International Airport welcomed 162,000 passengers, which is getting closer to the 185,000 in July 2019. And the Victoria Conference Centre saw a big increase this year with 8,211 delegate days in July compared to 3,633 in July 2019.
The Chamber applauds the provincial government's initiative to seek public input on plans to rejuvenate Belleville Terminal.
The facility in the Inner Harbour has served as a gateway for international visitors arriving by water since 1924. As a champion of our region's tourism industry, The Chamber has consistently advocated for the terminal and the need to modernize it with the times.
"We've been calling for renovations for decades, and it's taken time to get all levels of government onboard," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Now that we've done that, there's no time to lose. The requirements to be a border crossing have changed and there's a real risk we could lose our port of entry."
More than 680,000 passengers travelled through Belleville Terminal in 2019 and spent about $174 million in Greater Victoria, says the province's project plan.
Belleville Terminal generates 220,000 overnight visitors and sells over 16,000 vacation packages annually to their passengers, all of which are provided by local businesses in Victoria.
The province is developing a business case for the project. It's expected to cost up to $290 million and be completed by fall 2027.
A temporary terminal will be built until a new facility is ready.
People in Greater Victoria could soon have access to the ride-sharing brand that is ubiquitous in most of the rest of the world.
Uber Canada announced today that it has asked the province's Passenger Transportation Board to allow the company to operate in Greater Victoria and Kelowna. Uber was rejected by the board last year, which was concerned about allowing competition affecting business hurt by pandemic restrictions. However, the new request is for a transfer of licence from a company that was already approved by the board but is not operational.
The Chamber supports Uber's efforts as the company is a recognized global leader in the provision of ridesharing. Their international experience would be a welcome addition to Greater Victoria, particularly as international visitors return to our destination.