George Heyman: Lower Mainland transit stuck in B.C. Liberals’ policy gridlock
Since early 2013 the B.C. Liberal government has cynically delayed taking action to address Metro Vancouver’s transit needs.
Today, Transportation Minister Todd Stone is touting the economic and lifestyle benefits of the Evergreen Line. Yet in reality, this project was almost derailed when Premier Christy Clark tried to undercut the funding agreement that then–Minister Blair Lekstrom had reached with Metro mayors.
Meanwhile, the B.C. Liberal government’s irresponsible plans for a referendum on transit funding are delaying any real action on the pressing needs south of the Fraser in fast-growing communities like Surrey and Langley, along the Broadway corridor, or for our underfunded bus system.
This is not simply a question of whether or not we will spend money on transit, it is a question of what our region will look like if we don’t. Traffic congestion costs taxpayers by requiring additional road maintenance and construction to meet needs that could be alleviated by accessible and timely transit options. It costs us in quality of life through time idled away in backed-up traffic rather than being home with family members and friends.
And congestion damages our provincial economy when goods and services cannot move freely around the region and to our ports. Estimates of this congestion cost run as high as $1.5 billion per year.
It’s bad governance, as well as cynical politics, to risk the economic future of our region by miring it in endless transit policy gridlock.
Our regional population will grow by a million people over the next 30 years. Yet without new funding, in 2014 TransLink is planning no new infrastructure projects, and rolling back a planned 306,000-hour expansion of bus service. Faced with growing demand, this amounts to transit cutback. TransLink projects that per-capita service will steadily decline to 2004 levels by 2020.
Already, the funding gridlock created by the Clark Liberals has meant that the struggle to meet demand in growing areas has come at the expense of other routes, while people with limited mobility who depend on HandyDART have seen a seven-fold increase in service denials over the past three years.
So Metro residents suffer through longer waits, more transit crowding, and even greater road congestion. The resulting lost productivity and delays for commercial transport mean increased economic loss.
With less than 11 months to go until the November municipal elections—and the government’s transit funding referendum—the premier and the transportation minister can’t agree on the question to be asked, or even the form of the question. The issues are complex and regional voters deserve an informed discussion of this critical issue beginning today—not more months of waiting while government representatives try to agree on a plan.
It’s time for Minister Stone to stop crowing about one overdue transit project, and start co-operating with the mayors in a meaningful way to build a solid, integrated transportation system in line with our regional plans. It’s time he stood up for the needs of Metro Vancouver’s people.