The presidents of SFU and UBC have spoken out in favour of voting yes in the upcoming transit and transportation plebiscite.
SFU's Andrew Petter told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview that he and UBC's Arvind Gupta went public with their views because they believe this plebiscite is "key to the well-being of our students and our futures as institutions that serve the community".
"Our students are commuting about 95 minutes a day to get to and from their classes," Petter said. "Increasingly, that's a product of buses passing them by and being overloaded."
He pointed out that SFU students spend twice as much time commuting to campus than the national average and that nearly 90 percent rely on public transit to get to university.
Lower Mainland mayors have recommended that the public vote yes in the plebiscite to invest $7.5 billion in transportation and transit improvements over the next 10 years. This would be funded with a 0.5 percent increase to the provincial sales tax.
The plan calls for a new Pattullo Bridge, road upgrades, 11 new B-line bus routes, and funding for new bike routes. Petter said that the plan's proposed development of three light-rail lines proposed in Surrey and increased bus transit south of the Fraser River would have a huge impact on students who attend the SFU campus at Surrey City Centre.
The SFU president added that he often sees students stranded as they wait for buses on the Burnaby Mountain campus. That's because so many transit vehicles are full before all passengers have been able to board.
"I just can't imagine what it will be like five years from now with the population growth in this region if we don't do something now to start to address it," Petter said. "I really hope people will think about this in human terms, not just in economic terms. What's it going to mean for their kids?"
He said voters should ask themselves if they want their children taking two hours to travel to and from university in a few years. He then stated that these same parents would prefer their kids in classrooms or contributing in the community or engaging in activities that would benefit them.
"There's a human dimension here that hasn't been fully considered, certainly in the [media] coverage to date," Petter stated. "I think if people turn their minds to that, hopefully it will persuade them that this is truly an investment in their future and their family's future and in the kind of community we say we want."
Mail-in balloting begins on March 16. Under the mayors' recommendations, the sales-tax increase would finance one-third of the $2.1-billion cost of light rail lines connecting Surrey City Centre with Newton, Guildford, and Langley.
A yes vote would also provide funding to cover one-third of a new $2-billion Broadway subway connecting VCC-Clark Station and Arbutus Street.
The remaining two-thirds of the funding for rapid transit would have to come from the provincial and federal governments for these projects to be built.
SFU is a partner with Fraser Health and the City of Surrey in Innovation Boulevard. It's is an initiative to transform King George Boulevard close to Surrey Memorial Hospital into a globally recognized hub of neurotechology research.
Rapid transit along King George Boulevard between Surrey Centre and Newton would make Innovation Boulevard more desirable to companies looking to invest in the area.
Petter wouldn't comment on the plebiscite's potential impact on Innovation Boulevard specifically. However, he acknowledged that the Mayors' Council has argued that the economic success of the region will be hampered without sufficient investments in transit and transportation infrastructure.
The SFU president also stated that he hasn't been lobbying politicians in Victoria or Ottawa on this issue.
"Obviously, the hope is that if the community shows support for this infrastructure through this plebiscite," Petter said, "that will increase the leverage and the opportunity to persuade senior levels of government to do what they have done in the past here and elsewhere—that is to support what the community will have said is necessary for the future."