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Archive for July 16th, 2009

TransLink to yank Evergreen Line funding

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The consultation on the plan has not yet been completed. No decision has been made on funding. But even so Ken Hardie is saying that the Evergreen Line is toast. This line from Lougheed to Coquitlam has been a political football for twenty years. It should have been a priority since the North East Sector was identified as part of the Growth Concentration Area. Population there grew significantly – but nearly all of the growth is low density – and necessarily (since there is no rapid transit) almost entirely car oriented. The new people who came to the area to occupy the new houses saw that there was no transit and drove everywhere. Huge amounts of money were and are being spent – but all of it on roads, either funded by the developers or the province. The prospects of increasing transit mode share in this sector are thus slim to none.

The funding gap – given that the province has committed $400m, the feds $350m and Translink itself $400m is the relatively modest $173m. Of course Translink can devote its commitment to balancing the books if it does not have to find that $400m. But if it had that money in its capital fund – there are, surely, ways to trim some or all of the $173m. That is what happened with the Canada Line, after all, to keep that within budget – actually quite significant scope cuts – fewer trains, less stations, no down escalators and so on – plus the now very expensive decision to abandon the promised bored tube along Cambie for cut and cover. That is now going to cost Translink dearly in compensation to the merchants.

The timing of the announcement is curious. A bit like the way the results of the Iranian election were announced an hour after the pools closed long before many of the ballot boxes could have been collected into the counting places let alone counted. To those of you who have been taking part in the “Be Part of the Plan” process – do you really think they are listening? Or were the most significant decisions already made?

The province, of course, had previously had to announce that the private sector would not be funding the replacement of the Port Mann Bridge or the widening of Highway #1. There was no provision in any budget for the province to bear the brunt of this financing – $3bn or more – but yet that project proceeds with almost indecent haste. The provincial government was elected on the understanding that it was in control of the province’s finances, was better able to handle them than the opposition, and made very specific commitments about the deficit. All of which turns out to have been hogwash – the economy is in much worse state then they admitted, revenues from the business sector are way down – yet no-one thinks of turning off the tap for highways. Indeed the Gateway – a program born during the boom and designed to accommodate exponential growth in imports – is now touted as an essential stimulus to an economy which cannot afford to import anything like previous volumes of consumer goods from China.  Apparently, costs of construction have fallen significantly – but that is not mentioned when the Evergreen line is discussed. Somehow building highways is an investment in the future – but rapid transit isn’t.

Supposedly, we are in the process of converting Metro Vancouver from a “Liveable Region” to a “Sustainable Region”. Apparently BC is ahead of the rest of North America because it has a carbon tax. Yet we are not building transit – or transit oriented development. We are not tackling the car dependance of the suburbs – we are increasing it. And how we travel is one of the biggest sources of CO2 emissions. Transit is widely acknowledged to be one the most effective ways of cutting emissions – and increasing health – both personal and social.

Indeed it is not just the Evergreen Line which is being cut – transit service across the region will be cut – “unless we find new revenue, starting probably in 2010, 2011, we are going to have to start cutting transit service.”  Well, of course, the  Olympics will still get their special services – money will be kept aside for that – the cuts will start soon afterwards. The services that will be cut will be those that have “low ridership”  – which means the places which now have the worst service levels will see even less. The suburbs will be hit hard because they already have 96% of the trips on other modes. Given that there are few operational savings made by reducing service on SkyTrain and the Canada Line (you need nearly the same number of staff whatever the service level) the cuts will be in the bus service. Translink will get some more funding – up to the levels already permitted by the legislation. Which we know is inadequate. And most of that will be spent in the places where transit is “well used” now (i.e. around 20% of the trips at best). The Premier and the new Minister of Transport will shrug – if they acknowledge the issue at all – and pretend it is nothing to do with them. Which of course is not true but that will be the spin.

When the previous GVTA Board agreed – under duress – to allow the Canada Line to proceed – even though the Evergreen Line was their highest priority – the commitment was made that the Evergreen Line would proceed at the same time. It did not, of course, and now will not. Commitments made by this provincial government mean absolutely nothing. You cannot plan a region  that way. And you cannot expect people to change their mode of travel with this type of cynical double dealing. The present BC government is not green at all – it is simply a neoconservative, dogmatic and purblind, business controlled oligarchy. And we, I am afraid, voted for them and are stuck with them. We have an elected dictatorship – and there is no point at all in taking part in their dog and pony shows. They are simply designed to co-opt the willing – labelling the participants “reasonable, thoughtful” and thus by default those who decline to participate unreasonable, marginalising opponents. There can be only one allowed view – anything else is scoffed at.

TransLink is expected to make a final decision on the fate of the line by October

So why is Ken talking like this now? Because he wants you to support Translink’s demands more money. That is what “Be Part of the Plan” is all about – to build consent for more taxes regionally – but also to soften up the anger when that money turns out not to be enough to build the things that the people who went to the meetings said they wanted. And it is pointless saying that there are other alternatives – like cutting costs, or diverting other taxes. That is not going to happen. What will happen is that both taxes will increase – and fares – and other fees and charges – and service will get worse. Transit mode share will probably fall back once again to 11% – its not the end of the world – just more of the same. No real change. No acknowledgement at all that real change is what is needed  – has been needed for years – is  now more desperately important because the predictions of the rate of climate change turned out be grossly over optimistic. That chimera of sustainability has now receded farther than ever.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 16, 2009 at 10:39 am