How GERTIE Came to Gabriola

by: EJ on 05/08/2018

Regular readers of our blog will know we are big GERTIE bus supporters.  Right from the beginning, New Society Publishers has been part of the developing bus system -  donating money, volunteer hours and helping spread the word on social media.  We are even building a bus stop in memory of New Society Publisher co-founder Chris Plant.  (but that's another story!)

The following excerpt is from Fay Weller and Mary Wilson's new book, Changemakers: Embracing Hope, Taking Action, and Transforming the World that will be releasing this Friday. In it, Fay explains the ten year project that has become possibly the best loved community bus system anywhere! Each chapter in Changemakers is completed with a "To Ponder" section that helps readers connect the stories to their own community situations.

The Gertie bus service

Why don’t we use waste vegetable oil to help fuel a bus system on Gabriola?!!!

During a recent week, 396 people, four dogs, and a rooster took trips on Gertie, Gabriola’s community bus. There’s a good chance that none of those creatures realized just how much work had gone into making their bus trip a reality!

Gertie began about ten years ago. Judith and Fay were both interested in alternatives to car culture and keen to see the island reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. In that conversation, they imagined a bus fueled by waste vegetable oil (WVO) as a way to achieve several goals all at once. They joined forces with Deb, another islander, who had also been promoting the idea of a bus as part of taking action on climate change.

What followed was a wonderful example of a community organizing to support a project.


A community meeting, sponsored by the local ratepayer’s organization, gathered about twenty islanders who supported the project. By coincidence, British Columbia residents had just received what the provincial government called a Climate Change Dividend of $100, and the bus group (now with a fourth core member) decided on a fundraising campaign that asked people to donate this dividend, or what they could afford, to help fund the bus. About $5,000 was raised, representing 500 island residents who were willing to put their money where their enthusiasm was. They had to be patient! The gestation period was over five years. For the members of the organizing committee, it was a busy time. There were surveys and studies and route planning and bus shopping and a lot of work to comply with regulations of all kinds. There were conversations with other small communities with bus systems, and trips to biodiesel and alternative transit conferences. And there were regulators. To carry passengers in Canada, bus operators must satisfy several regulators. Funding for two of the original buses came from a fund administered by a level of local government; the application process for that also took a lot of effort and energy.

Through it all, the community was involved. The name-the-bus competition was especially popular. Fay recounts the story:

“We had over 150 names submitted from the community. We went through two rounds of voting and ended up with G.E.R.T.I.E.— Gabriola’s Environmentally Responsible, Trans-Island Express. Community members felt ownership of the bus system because they had been part of the naming.


Photo credit: Gabriola Sounder

They named the bus system; they named the buses; they came out to celebrate our birthday; they came out to celebrate our launch.... People were engaged. People felt it was their bus. We went for a $10,000 BC Hydro Champions award—an online contest for community groups, sponsored by the provincial electrical utility—and everyone was voting. The whole island joined in, and I think that is where the real strength came from—that voting. Whether it was voting for a name or voting for the $10,000, people were engaged. People were making up songs about Gertie!”

The community support continued when the pilot project ended. Fay continues: “So after three years we went for a referendum, so that the bus drivers would begin to get paid, and we got 67 or 68 percent, or something like that. So now we’re a taxpayer-funded bus system. But we’re still a community bus system!”

Looking back, Fay is a little surprised that there was some negative reaction when the referendum was launched. That was out- weighed by the positive, though.

People offering to sing for us at benefit concerts, people creating songs, the volunteer drivers, even people volunteering to filter the waste vegetable oil. . . . The excitement about Gertie, the way Gertie made people feel like they could do things. . . . You know I never imagined, “This is what is going to happen if we do this.” But it did.

(Editor's note: This promotional video from the early days of GERTIE features the very first bus - Thomas, a converted school bus.)


To ponder

Reflect on your community. What are the primary transportation modes in your community, your region, or your country? What actions have people and businesses taken to reduce their fossil-fuel vehicle use in your community? Is it easy for cyclists to get around? Is it easy for people to walk from home to work, from home to events, services, and groceries? Is your shopping area designed for cars or people? How are learning and knowledge about transportation use being transferred within your com- munity, as well as between your community and others across the continent and beyond? Have government agencies responded to the culture shift within communities with any policy changes or initiatives? How have your personal transportation habits shifted as you learned different stories about transportation and reflected on them through compassion, wisdom, and practice?




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