Stephanie Ryan: TransLink cash crisis could be bad news for Surrey

By Stephanie Ryan

TransLink came to Surrey this week to consult the public on its current cash crunch and what should be done about it.

According to TransLink CEO Tom Prendergast, TransLink will require $450 million in new funding each year to close an annual funding gap of $150 million and to expand transit service to a level that is appropriate for our ever-growing population.

Without new funding, transit service across the region will return to 1974 levels.

This is especially bad news for Surrey.

Without new dollars soon, transit service in B.C.’s second-largest city could be severely reduced to just a few feeder buses shipping people to the SkyTrain.

Despite much talk about making transit a number one priority, Surrey mayor Dianne Watts, who chairs the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, has been adamant that she won’t bring a single municipal dollar to the table through a marginal increase in property tax, to help make ends meet.

Surrey’s mayor and council don’t seem terribly concerned that public transit, as we know it, is on the brink of collapse.

But, really, why be concerned about the state of public transit in Surrey when you drive everywhere anyways? Until recently, Surrey city council was set to give themselves an additional $865-per-month car allowance to their $50,000 annual salary, before public outrage caused them to withdraw.

With almost $900 a month to spend on driving, who’d want to ride the bus?

Even before the public got wind of TransLink’s financial crisis, the plans for improving transit in Surrey weren’t what you might call great.

A previous version of Transport 2040, TransLink’s 30-year plan for public transit in the Lower Mainland, called for a total of six frequent bus routes in Surrey, compared with 30 for Vancouver. This is despite predictions that Surrey, with three times the landmass of Vancouver and growing at a rate of 12,000 new people a year, will likely out-populate Vancouver by 2040.

And service right now? Pretty dismal.

Surrey riders face some of the highest transit fares in Canada; a return SkyTrain trip to Vancouver costs $10. Only a handful of buses run after 9 p.m. Crime-ridden SkyTrain stations put people on edge, and a lack of cars means SkyTrain can’t keep up during peak hours. Most major roads in Surrey have no bus service at all.

Surrey has historically not received its fair share of funding for public transit.

To add insult to injury, car drivers in Surrey will soon face tolls ranging from $3 to $9 for a one-way trip over all three bridges crossing the Fraser River from North Surrey.

Something needs to be done now to relieve residents of Surrey of their chronic car-dependency. Significant investments to increase levels of bus service and access to a network of rapid transit need to be made immediately so that we can live more sustainably and healthily.

And we need to be much more ambitious in bringing a grid of world-class transit to the rest of Surrey, in addition to the proposed “Frequent Transit Network”, over the long-term, especially in the face of peak oil.

Finally, we cannot allow for transit service in Surrey to dip below the current levels, which are already too low. That means reversing the decision to axe the 351 direct bus route from South Surrey to Vancouver.

Surrey and TransLink should also work together on commonsense projects that are relatively inexpensive. This includes reviving community rail on the existing Interurban Rail line in Surrey, which could be done within a matter of years and would cost a fraction of what an expansion of SkyTrain would.

We have to start by finding a funding solution for TransLink’s $450-million annual shortfall. All players need to be ready to offer their share to make sure our public transit system continues to operate, and can expand appropriately for Surrey and throughout the region.

This means being open to different funding options, including unpopular choices like an increase in property tax (which will cost the average household $40 more a year).

Here’s hoping that someone will step up to save TransLink before it’s too late.

Stephanie Ryan is the president of the Surrey Civic Coalition.



Do it

Jun 19, 2009 at 12:09am

Stephanie, you are better off without TransLink. TransLink has failed to deliver better and more economical transit service with its regional transit.

Start your own local transit system; it will be more efficient and more economical that TransLink. TransLink is like a bloated pig eating up tax dollars to sustain its wasteful bureaucratic regional transit system.

surrey citizen

Jun 19, 2009 at 11:37am

I completely agree with you Stephanie!! I don’t think our city, with today’s population, could survive (let alone thrive) with a transit system circa 1974. And you are absolutely right that “we need to be much more ambitious in bringing a grid of world-class transit system”. I think the problem is that not enough people are aware of the Transport 2040 plan (especially considering only 9 people showed up to Translinks Surrey pubic consultation!?). Not enough people are aware of the transportation initiative or how important their opinions are too the Translink development plan. We all need to pick it up a notch and get involved. If you missed the Surrey forum you can go online to join the discussion or to find the next closest forum.

Blake Frederick

Jun 20, 2009 at 11:43pm

I agree entirely with your proposed solution of increasing property taxes. The other solutions that I've heard are untenable. Thank you for this great article.