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Written by Stephen Rees

March 15, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Posted in politics

Buses and trains and levies

with 16 comments

I spent yesterday afternoon in Surrey. Actually it gave me a bit of a flashback as the first night I started work at what was then known as BC Transit they put me in the same hotel that Harry Bains and the CAW used for their transit forum. And really the problems we were talking about were no that much different to twelve years earlier – the scale is a bit bigger that’s all.

Transit mode share in Surrey is 4% – compared to the regional average of something less than 12% (it gets rounded up by Translink boosterism). And of course everyone blames Surrey for that – not that they have much say over transit provision then or now. It is, of course, the fastest growing city in the region. Peter Holt had all the stats on a Powerpoint, which saved the rest of us having to remember figures. The facts are stark – and quite simply Surrey has been neglected. The villain of the piece was identified by all as the Province of BC – whoever was in power at the time. Because transit spending priority has always been to build SkyTrain and most of it has gone to serve Vancouver and Burnaby. Not that when local mayors had any say they espoused these values. Usually the objective studies that were conducted favoured light rail as cheaper, better value for money and greater geographic coverage. CAW – the bus drivers’ union – is now conducting a campaign for more buses. And bus rapid transit transit – although they say they have nothing against trains.

It was pionted out to me by a regular reader that Pete McMartin had a good column recently on the levy- and it covers the recent history of Translink. Why it is no longer democratically controlled and why it is in such a financial pickle. The burden of the Canada Line is acting the way that the debt burden of SkyTrain has acted since it opened. That cost eats up the available revenue so there is not enough left over for bus expansion. And for everywhere else in the region except Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster buses provide the transit service. In Surrey – and soon in Richmond too – there is a short length of track with inadaequate service that has to be fed by buses to be useful, but does not match the trip pattern. Becuase we no longer mostly commute to downtown Vancouver.

Trip patterns changed becuase development patterns changed. Vancouver lost its industry and most of its “centre of regional employment” function as land was redeveloped for highrise condos. The employmnet did not go to the region’s  town centres because develkopers were allowed to build cheaper office and industrial parks out by the freeway ramps.This shift in employment pattern was not anticipated by the LRSP. Now more people live in downtown Vancouver and work elsewhere than the other way around. And they work in places mostly poorly served by transit. Microsoft (of course) run their own bus service.

In the South of the Fraser the main commuting trip pattern is east-west – but the bus service runs north-south. Because it always has done. Well not always – becuase in 1970 there was no transit servcie in Surrey (I did not know that).  While North of the Fraser developed earlier around streetcars and trolleys most of the development South of the Fraser occurred after the closure of the interrurban. Of course its resusictation would help the historic communities along its route – becuase they grew up around the stations. But the real issue is how do we get transit oriented development everywhere else where there is no transit? Becuase that is the only kind of development that is going to work in a world where oil is scarce and alternative fuels simply fail to make any inroads into the automotive fleet.

And it is not that we were unaware of any of this before. As I said, twelve years ago there was a shortage of buses in the region – so much so that BC Transit bought some second hand from Seattle (they were clapped out and useless) and Everett (small but beautifully looked after). The system was just as cash strapped and just a much a toy of the provincial politicians as it is now. I do not know of anywhere else where that level of government insists that is is the only level that can make important decisions. The vast majority of major cites in the world are responsible for their own transit.

I must also mention Councillor Marvin Hunt who has been in power in Surrey and at Translink for years but somehow manages to avoid any blame for the on going mess. He also believes the spin – that Translink is highly regarded by other cities around the world and that they send people here to study it. He may also boast about the winning of the APTA “system of the year award”  – but he did not do that yesterday. He also has a way with figures which I can only describe as imaginative. Every pronouncement he made was followed by hastily scribbled notes being passed backwards and forwards between panel members. He did vote for trolleybuses but he still believes in natural gas – becuase that does require faith, not reason.

The province now has a “$14 billion” transit plan – but of course that includes the $3bn spent on the Canada Line. And of the rest the province is only willing to pay 1/3 and neother the region nor the feds have committed to thier shares. The region becuase it has no revenue – remember that? That is why they need the levy! And not because of much needed capital expansion but they cannot afford to run the syetm they have now with existuing revenue resources. Which is exactly the situation that Kevin Falcon has created.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 15, 2009 at 8:43 am

Posted in politics, transit

Tagged with ,