Why a Christy Clark victory just might rule out rapid transit to UBC

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The B.C. election could have serious ramifications for those trying to get a rapid-transit line built to UBC.

In February, Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson and UBC president Stephen Toope held a news conference to generate support for a $3-billion subway from Commercial Drive to the Point Grey campus.

It came as Surrey municipal politicians are pushing for a $2.18-billion light-rail system.

They want TransLink to connect Surrey Centre to Newton along King George Boulevard, and to Guildford along 104 Avenue. The council's preferred option also calls for a third light-rail line extending from King George SkyTrain Station to Langley.

Meanwhile, the B.C. Liberals under Christy Clark have promised a referendum on transit funding in the 2014 municipal elections. 

Because nobody thought her government would be reelected, few expected this to occur. Now, it's a reality, which adds more uncertainty to the mix.

There are many variables to consider in evaluating where new rapid-transit lines may be approved during the B.C. Liberals' next term.

Considerations regarding Vancouver

• Vancouver voters delivered seven of the city's 11 seats to the NDP. The B.C. Liberals don't have a strong Vancouver presence in their new caucus, unlike during the previous three terms.

• Voters in Vancouver–Point Grey, which includes UBC's main campus, defeated Clark. She owes nothing to the UBC community and its administrators, who have been promoting rapid transit.

• One B.C. Liberal seat, Vancouver–False Creek, was won by Sam Sullivan. He thwarted Clark in 2005 when she tried to become mayor on the NPA slate. They appear to be on friendly terms, but Clark has been known to have a very long memory.

• Another B.C. Liberal seat, Vancouver-Langara, was won by Moira Stilwell. She was Clark's sharpest critic during the party's last leadership contest and was kept out of Clark's first cabinet.

• A third B.C. Liberal seat, Vancouver-Quilchena, was won by Andrew Wilkinson. He, along with Martyn Brown, is part of a coterie of very strong supporters of former premier Gordon Campbell. Brown has thoroughly alienated Clark with numerous pre-election commentaries, which suggested she's poorly suited for the job of premier. The Campbell faction of the party has been lukewarm, at best, to Clark.

• One of Clark's strongest supporters in the city is real-estate marketer Bob Rennie. And from a business standpoint, he's going to favour the development of more rapid transit in Vancouver.

• Rennie is on the board of Emily Carr University of Art + Design, which is hoping for a rapid-transit stop at its new campus on False Creek Flats. 

• If there's a line built along the Broadway corridor, it's conceivable that a station could be included at Main and East Broadway. And Rennie is marketing Rize Alliance's condos near the corner of Kingsway and East Broadway. Another option would be to connect the line from VCC-Clark Station to the Canada Line at Cambie and West Broadway, perhaps with another stop at the new Emily Carr University campus.

Surrey considerations

• Surrey and North Delta voters were much kinder to the B.C. Liberals than were the citizens of Vancouver. The B.C. Liberals captured six of the nine seats in this area, plus two seats in Langley.

• Among those elected was Surrey councillor Marvin Hunt, who has been openly scornful of developing rapid transit along the Broadway corridor. He's a former president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities and could emerge as Clark's most powerful Surrey lieutenant in cabinet.

• Another new B.C. Liberal MLA is Peter Fassbender, the mayor of Langley City, which would be the terminus of one of the three lines radiating out from the Surrey Centre area.

• If the B.C. Liberals bring more rapid transit to Surrey, they could possibly hold or expand their number of seats in the 2017 election. Surrey's population is rapidly growing. And it would help Clark beat off any challenge to her leadership by Surrey's mayor, Dianne Watts.

Looking at this issue strictly through the lens of constituency politics, it's easy to conclude that the B.C. election put Surrey at the front of the line for the province's next major rapid-transit investment.

This is despite far higher demand for transit in the Broadway corridor.

After all, Surrey has only four SkyTrain stations compared to 20 in Vancouver. And the Surrey-Langley area has far more MLAs on the government side of the house.

In addition, Stephen Harper's Conservatives are far stronger in the Fraser Valley, so that's where they'll want to put any federal dollars.

However, the wild card could remain the big funders of the B.C. Liberal party. Many make their money in the Vancouver real-estate, engineering, and construction sectors.

If they start clamouring for a transit line along Broadway and if the federal Liberals or NDP win the next federal election, then it's not necessarily a slam dunk for rapid transit in Surrey.

The final wild card is the 2014 transit referendum. If voters reject any additional funding in this area, then there won't be any announcements of a new subway or light-rail line before the 2017 B.C. election.

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ursa minor

May 16, 2013 at 2:41pm

Why doesn't Vancouver build a light rail/trolley system by itself, which would be far less expensive than having shovelling tax money into Bombardier's never-satisfied maw. Can Calgary, Edmonton, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, and Minneapolis all be so wrong on this?

Besides if we build it, we can build it where we want. A westbound line can connect Granville Island and Science World, with a spur line along Georgia to Stanley Park. COPE was talking about this all the way back when Larry Campbell was mayor!

To hell with Translink and the Liberals. I'm willing to pay more for something Vancouverites can call our own.

Gerry

May 16, 2013 at 3:33pm

It was a stupid idea anyway.

blah

May 16, 2013 at 4:11pm

Wow Charlie, Digging deep to come up with some reason to slam the Liberals aren't you? Still upset about the election????

Janet

May 16, 2013 at 4:29pm

Why is it always Surrey, Vancouver, Po Co, and other localities mentioned for transit but the North Shore doesn't get any mention and it is as red as red can be with Liberals. Transit to and from the shore is at best slow and tedious and the busses are over crowded. Hopeless, if you want to come home after midnight from downtown.If Vancouver wants rapid transit they have to provide fast and economic solutions that will benefit everyone. Maybe someone should visit Tokyo or other places that have this type of transportation and get a thinking tank together for solutions. Better yet, reduce some of the pay structure for the board members and there would be more funding available and not coming from the overtaxed homeowner/automobile driver. Just my two cents worth.

Richard

May 16, 2013 at 9:59pm

@ursa minor

Yes, the other cities wrong. Their LRT systems typically get only a fraction of the ridership that SkyTrain does. Not surprising as SkyTrain is faster, more frequent and more reliable. Seattle's LRT system will cost more than Vancouver's SkyTrain, has less capacity and far less ridership.

Bob Dobalina

May 17, 2013 at 8:57am

Rather silly article when throughout the Liberals history they've had no problem with big transportation projects. In fact, I think the Liberals like those projects and will continue with them.

Vancouver needs trains

May 17, 2013 at 10:02am

@ursa minor

The line to UBC would be an extension of an already build line. It is better to stay with the same technology.

Forest

May 17, 2013 at 10:53am

I read this morning that the Libs were elected with a mere 22% of the vote. It's not just the transit system which is broken.

Alan Layton

May 17, 2013 at 1:13pm

After the Olympics, the Olympic Village fiasco, the new Port Mann bridge and huge white elephants like the new stadium roof and new convention center, the last thing this city and the province needs is another multi-billion dollar project. Put in light rail which is not only cheaper but more flexible. No wonder this province has such as a massive debt - we have too many 'dreamers' and not enough realists.

ACMESalesRep

May 17, 2013 at 2:03pm

ursa minor: None of those cities built systems by themselves. They all contracted with manufacturers of light rail systems, including Bombardier, to build along routes chosen by the cities – just as TransLink has done.

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