Where's Derek Corrigan when you need him? Fleetwood SkyTrain cost cries out for a mayor with a backbone

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      In recent years, it became fashionable to bash former Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan.

      We've published some of the complaints about him ourselves before he was defeated in the 2018 election.

      People were upset that he wouldn't allow a homeless shelter in his city during his 16-year tenure in the mayor's chair.

      Corrigan's critics used to say he was too rigidly attached to the city's town-centre planning process, leading to evictions of tenants in Metrotown. 

      Some thought the former lawyer was too quick to verbally rip into his political opponents.

      But this weekend, after reading TransLink's newest details about the so-called Surrey-Langley SkyTrain project, I'm feeling a little nostalgic about Corrigan.

      That's because he would most certainly be raising hell about this "Fleetwood SkyTrain" if he were still the mayor of Burnaby.

      Next week, the TransLink Mayor's Council is set to approve a $1.6-billion plan to develop a SkyTrain line running just seven kilometres from King George Station to the Fleetwood area of Surrey.

      Surrey mayor Doug McCallum claimed in the last election campaign that this funding envelope—provided by taxpayers across the region, province, and country—would enable the project to go 16.5 kilometres to Langley Centre.

      In reality, it won't even get to Clayton in East Surrey for $1.6 billion.

      SkyTrain says there's enough funding to extend SkyTrain from King George Station to 166th Street in Surrey.

      Know-nothing populism triumphs in Surrey

      Anyone who has paid attention to the cost of rapid-transit projects knew that McCallum's election-campaign claim was utter rubbish.

      SkyTrain projects can never come in at $100 million per kilometre in 2019.

      McCallum's opponents with the new Proudly Surrey party described the Safe Surrey Coalition campaign, led by McCallum, as a "know-nothing populist wave".

      "Know-nothing populism is not about right or left," wrote Proudly Surrey candidates Pauline Greaves and Stuart Parker on this website before the election. "It is about a kind of political discourse that shuts down critical thinking and rational dialogue, that creates a fog of confusion and negativity so as to more effectively bamboozle voters with what appear to be clear messages but are, in fact, carefully crafted nonsense."

      As a result of McCallum's Trumpian promise, Surrey will get four new stations for this $1.6 billion.

      That's rather than the eight stations that would have been built had the SkyTrain line reached Langley Centre.

      The annual fare revenue will be $10.2 million from four stations by 2035, according to SkyTrain.

      That's rather than $21.3 million per year with eight stations for this $1.6-billion expenditure.

      That will mean tens of millions of dollars will have to be diverted from other parts of the transit system over the first 10 years of service.

      Either that, or transit fares will have to be substantially increased, hurting low-income people and students.

      The ridership on this new line in 2035 will be 39,900 per weekday—including just 12,000 new transit trips—for this $1.6 billion.

      That's rather than the 62,000 per weekday—and 24,000 new transit trips—forecast with eight stations.

      The now kiboshed Surrey-Newton-Guildford Light Rail Transit project would have delivered nine new stations.

      That was in addition to the existing SkyTrain stops at King George and Surrey Central.

      It would have contributed to a more vibrant city centre, more business investment in Surrey, and more tax revenue for municipal coffers.

      McCallum, on the other hand, wants to promote Surrey as a bedroom community with a SkyTrain project that will funnel commuters into downtown Vancouver.

      McCallum's Safe Surrey Coalition won the election, in part, by falsely promising to build SkyTrain from King George Station to Langley at the same $1.65-billion cost as the promised street-level light-rail line linking Guildford to Surrey Centre and Surrey Centre to Newton.

      This was despite TransLink's previous estimated cost of $2.9 billion to develop SkyTrain from King George Station to Langley.

      TransLink's newest estimated price tag is $3.12 billion—nearly double McCallum's forecast.

      Former Surrey mayors Dianne Watts and Linda Hepner dreamed of light rail connecting Newton and Guildford with Surrey Centre, but that was dashed by Doug McCallum.

      McCallum disrupts planning process

      Corrigan, the outspoken former mayor of Burnaby, chaired the TransLink Mayors' Council before he was defeated.

      In that capacity, he was promoting the light-rail project in Surrey and a massive expansion in bus service. Corrigan has always been a strong supporter of the bus network.

      "Phase two [of the regional transportation plan]—along together with the phase one plan we announced a little over a year ago—will add 900,000 more hours of bus service per year in our already extensive bus network," Corrigan said in March 2018. "We're adding almost as much bus service as delivered in total by B.C. Transit in this province."

      This came after he and the other mayors had reached a landmark agreement with the provincial and federal governments.

      In essence, McCallum persuaded the other mayors to tear it up after the election.

      Corrigan's successor as Burnaby's mayor, Mike Hurley, wasn't exactly on the front lines defending the interests of bus riders.

      Corrigan, on the other hand, would have stood up to McCallum when he joined the mayors' council and made his outlandish claims about the cost of a SkyTrain project to Langley.

      If he were still mayor, Corrigan's voice would be booming across the pages of newspapers, on radio, and on TV newscasts this weekend about how the voters of Surrey had been snookered.

      Corrigan would have let the public know, in very clear terms, that they will inevitably end up with inferior regional bus service and/or higher fares as a result of spurious claims about the cost of SkyTrain to Langley in the last election campaign. 

      There would have been a lot more attention on this as a result.

      But with the notable exceptions of Richmond's Malcolm Brodie and the City of North Vancouver's Linda Buchanan, most of the mayors were reluctant to seriously question McCallum's codswallop.

      In March 2018 as chair of the TransLink Mayors' Council, Derek Corrigan obtained consensus on a plan that offered tremendous benefits for bus riders.

      Corrigan favoured better bus service

      I can only imagine how Corrigan might have responded were he at the table when the fateful decision was made on November 15 to suspend the Surrey light-rail project.

      The two Stewarts—Mayor Kennedy Stewart in Vancouver and Mayor Richard Stewart in Coquitlam, as well as the Township of Langley's Jack Froese—appeared to be in McCallum's corner. With these municipalities' combined populations, it would easily give McCallum enough support at the TransLink Mayors' Council to get his way in any weighted vote.

      Kennedy Stewart formed an alliance with McCallum because he wants the Surrey mayor to support a SkyTrain extension to UBC, which will further cannibalize the regional bus system.

      The current chair of the mayors' council, New Westminster's Jonathan Cote, knows that this duo, along with Froese, could easily oust him if he raises a ruckus.

      Besides, Cote already has five SkyTrain stations in his city, unlike the mayors on the North Shore, Port Coquitlam, and Maple Ridge.

      What's the lesson in all of this?

      If you're planning on relying on transit on your morning commute 10 years from now, find a place as close as possible to a SkyTrain station if you can afford it.

      It's because the bus network, which has always been the backbone of the regional transit system, will likely suffer cutbacks if McCallum again gets his way again at the mayors' council.

      There are those who support SkyTrain projects at all costs. They rightly point out that this Cadillac system is popular with the public and always draws ridership.

      But the reality is that the SkyTrain still covers a relatively small footprint in the Lower Mainland.

      For those enduring the growing gridlock on the North Shore, the intense traffic tie-ups in Port Coquitlam, and brutal congestion along King George Boulevard, a $1.6-billion SkyTrain project to Fleetwood isn't going to heal their pain.

      And for low-income people, including students, who ride the buses in these areas, it's likely that they'll be waiting longer in the future at their stops.

      That's the way it always seems to work in Metro Vancouver whenever a shiny new rapid-transit project comes before local politicians for a vote.