BC’s budget passes up our struggling transit system

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      Public policy nerds often say, “If you want to know what a society values, look at its budget.” 

      For transit riders, the 2024 budget was a chance to demonstrate that we are a valued part of this province. After all, Metro Vancouver riders have been dealing with unprecedented overcrowding and a system that’s years behind where it needs to be. But we didn’t see any recognition of the transit emergency. 

      This is a crisis that’s been years in the making. When I joined the planning division at TransLink a decade ago, I was a sparky young urban planner, bursting with energy to make the transit network better. But when you’re starting out, your job is to answer the angry emails and phone calls from customers. Funding for transit was in short supply then, too. People were rightfully angry that they were getting left behind because their bus route didn’t have enough capacity to serve them—known in the industry as “passups.”

      I wanted to tell these riders that they did deserve better service. “We wish we could make it better! It’s the elected officials that hold the purse strings; please tell them you want more buses!” But alas, that was not my role as a dutiful public servant. I had to bite my tongue.

      Here we are in 2024. Overcrowding and passups are back on Metro Vancouver transit with a vengeance. And it’s time to do something about it. Last year, I quit my job at TransLink to start a transit riders’ group with a few other passionate people who feel that better transit can transform Metro Vancouver. 

      Better transit has countless upsides. It broadens access to job and education opportunities; it lets local businesses attract broader customer bases; it addresses social isolation among elders; and it means about 37 other things for all sorts of people. I always say: you tell me what you care about, and I’ll tell you how it’ll benefit from more transit.

      Flashy projects like SkyTrain extensions are all well and good, but take years to come into being. We need investment to fix transit now. 

      And the most crucial spends aren’t all that complicated. We need more buses, and we need more bus lanes. Transit riders are doing everyone else a favour by not driving, which helps to clear our streets of congestion. By buying more buses to make sure that they have a decent ride, the governments are avoiding the billion-dollar expense of having to widen every single one of our city streets to accommodate more cars. Really, it’s a bargain.

      So how do we get more buses and more bus lanes? We’ve seen in cities around the world that when riders work together and organize, they win meaningful improvements to public transit that benefit everyone. 

      When Toronto’s TTC proposed to close Line 3 for years while it was being replaced by a subway, TTCRiders pushed them to build a busway in the interim. The riders won, leading to significantly shorter commutes for thousands. When Transit Alliance Miami found out that the county was going to cut $15 million from the transit budget, they organized and got that funding reinstated.

      That’s the only sustainable solution to the transit shortage. Transit riders need to be seen as organized and powerful. Let’s make this the last provincial budget that leaves transit riders out in the cold.