GERTIE: Gabriola’s Environmentally Responsible Trans Island Express
GERTIE’s story is a remarkable tale of the dedication of a small band of volunteers who won the hearts and support of the community for their vision of a made-for-the-island bus service. GERTIE came into being in June 2013, the result of six years of preliminary work by a group of bus advocates who were concerned to reduce the carbon emissions on the island produced by vehicle use and to provide transportation options for Gabriola residents and visitors.
Early in 2008, a small group including Judith Roux, Fay Weller, and Deb Scott put forward the idea that the Climate Action Dividend cheques of $100 issued by the BC Government to every man, woman and child in BC as part of their climate change strategy could be used as initial funding for the development of a public bus service on Gabriola. 40 people interested in this proposal turned up at a Ratepayers’ meeting and a bank account was opened which eventually totaled $7,000. In September 2008, a public transit task force conducted a gabriola-transportation-survey-results which was mailed to households as well as being available online and in hard copy at the library. 400 households (799 residents) responded indicating that there was support for a public bus service.
In November 2010, a bc-transit-feasibility-study was produced by BC Transit which showed generally there was a low to medium potential for the development of a transit service using a range of service provision options.
In July 2012, a gabriola-shuttle-bus-proposal-july-2012 was submitted to the RDN. It proposed that a bus system, focused primarily on serving the needs of commuters using the ferry but also offering limited mid-day service to the village area, be run as a three-year pilot project to ascertain the feasibility of a permanent bus service. A non-hierarchical team of volunteers would be used for driving, coordination and administration. Volunteers would also pick up and process waste vegetable oil from local restaurants to be used to supplement diesel fuel in the buses. The proposed bus service would operate under the auspices of the Island Futures Society, a non-profit society registered with the provincial government, who would be responsible for securing financing, liability and grant negotiations and agreements. Operating funds would come from donations made by generous community members and organizations.
Over the period December 2012 to January 2013, a petition asking for support for the proposed pilot project garnered over 850 signatures as well as many messages of support through the website. A proposal, gabriola-community-bus-proposal-january-2013, for Community Works Funding to purchase buses was submitted to Howard Houle, Gabriola’s Regional Director on the RDN. The proposal was accompanied by 735 signatures and messages of support. This funding comes from federal gas tax money set aside for supporting projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gases and is administered by regional governments. A second proposal, submission-to-dennis-trudeau-april dated April 2, 2013, was submitted for funding for two used buses. $65,500 was awarded. A competition was held to pick a name for the new bus service; GERTIE (Gabriola’s Environmentally Responsible Trans-Island Express) was a clear winner. GERTIE’s name also commorates the beloved figure made by Fogo Art who stood for many years at the entrance to the Gabriola ferry in Nanaimo. A $10,000 award for “worthy community projects” was received from BC Hydro. GERTIE was one of five winners from the fifteen options who received the most votes from the public. GERTIE officially began as a three-year pilot project in June 2013.
GERTIE began service with a fleet of a used black Mercedes Sprinter, known as Gertie Noir, with a capacity of 10 passengers and a used yellow school bus, Thomas, that offered additional capacity for shuttles to community events as well as regular service. A second Sprinter, Stealth Gertie, was added in October 2013. Later, Blanche, capacity 17 passengers, was added to the fleet and Thomas was sold. Surf Lodge donated Gus the Bus with a capacity of 24 to round out the present fleet. The operating committee was Fay Weller, Judith Roux, Jim Ramsay, Steve Earle and Susan Yates. The first Coordinators were Steve Jackson and Steve Polzin. Trevor Gear took over as Coordinator in 2014. Many dedicated volunteers stepped up to become Gertie volunteer drivers; other volunteers helped with the processing of the waste vegetable oil donated by island restaurants. In August 2013, an online survey was conducted and neighbourhood meetings were held to determine how well GERTIE was meeting community transportation needs.
The gertie-year-end-evaluation-report1, June 2014, showed that the ridership was steadily increasing and community financial support was forthcoming. Approximately $7,000 was received in donations. A Bob Bossin benefit show netted over $500. Grants were received from the CCCU, $200 to subsidize seniors’ tickets, September to December 2013, and $1000 from the corporate sponsorship program; Gabriola Recreation Society, $530 to cover the cost of drivers for shuttles to community events; and the Lion’s Club, $3,000 to subsidize youth fares from February 2014 to January 2015. Mid-Island Coop offered a discount on fuel. The Commons provided parking spaces for the buses and an office. Bill Sprogis attached the bike racks onto the buses and Bill Schram provided many unbilled upgrades, inspections and repairs; Mark Shaw provided assistance in finding the two Sprinters and Blanche and bringing additional seats for them across the border. The Gabriola Sounder published the GERTIE schedule weekly as well as regular articles by Susan Yates. GERTIE’s first birthday was celebrated at Folklife Village with a large cake provided by Village Foods.
In the fall of 2014, a Go Gertie Committee was formed to prepare for the Referendum that would determine whether GERTIE received taxpayer support, a necessity if the bus service were to continue on the expiry of the three-year pilot project. Although volunteers would continue to play an essential role in the operation of the bus service, the bus drivers needed to be paid and secure financial support was necessary for the purchase and maintenance of the buses. Members of the Go Gertie Committee were Fay Weller, Judith Roux, Jim Ramsay, Steve Earle, Richard Hamilton, Suzanne Bisson, Charlotte Cameron, and Katharine Patterson. The Committee kicked off its campaign in August 2015 with the performance at the annual Salmon BBQ of a song written by Gail Lund and sung by the volunteer bus drivers.
Want to hear their song? click here.
On September 16, 2015, GERTIE was changed to the Gabriola Community Bus Foundation (GCBF). Information tables were set up at various community events and outside Village Foods.
A final Referendum Rally attended by MP Sheila Malcolmson was held at the Agi Hall at the end of January 2016.
The Referendum vote was held on February 13, 2016. 66.9% of ratepayers approved an increase in property tax to support GERTIE. The approved budgets for June-December 2016 and for 2017-2018 provide for service at the current levels with paid drivers. On March 17, 2016 GCBF became a registered charity under the Income Tax Act. On May 10, 2016, an agreement was signed with the RDN for the Gabriola Community Bus Foundation to operate GERTIE. Directors on the board were Anne Drozd, Steven Earle, Jim Ramsay, Judith Roux, Steve Struthers, Fay Weller and Susan Yates. As promised during the referendum campaign, a public meeting was held at the Commons on April 17, 2016. Mary Wilson facilitated a visioning session, “What Do You Think GERTIE Should Be Like in the Future?”
The first AGM was held on September 14, 2016 at the Commons. Directors Anne Drozd and Steve Struthers stepped down; two new directors, Katharine Patterson and Peter ter Weeme were appointed.
GERTIE is leading the way. According to one transportation consultant, GERTIE is the only community-run public bus service in Canada and is generating interest from far and wide.