In a recent blog post, journalist Frances Bula pointed out changes to Metro Vancouver transit services, including many back-to school improvements and a few service cutbacks. TransLink’s online notice of service changes is thick with housekeeping items and seasonal routine. However, there are links to the bigger picture that I’d like to suggest here.
First, there’s a scarcity of good news for the South-of-Fraser. When TransLink increased the regional fuel tax in early 2012, it was intended partly to support more frequent bus service for Surrey, the Langleys and Delta. These communities have accounted for 40 per cent of the region’s population growth and much of its job growth over the past decade, and residents are growing increasingly vocal about the need for improved transit.
For now, we’re looking at three modest increases in service to the Surrey Skytrain stations, from Langley City, Willowbrook and White Rock. On the negative side, service in the deep boonies, from Cloverdale to Willowbrook, will be cut back.
Second — and maybe this is hallucination – I see a high correlation between service cutback locations and urban village locations, suggesting that the villages are falling short of expectations as transit magnets. In the TransLink roster, I count eight significant examples of significant service reduction: two of the affected routes terminate in Burnaby Heights, one in Cloverdale, one in Maple Ridge Town Centre, and one in downtown Poco, with a sixth passing through Newport and its clone, all the subject of reports on this site. Don’t any of you want to ride the bus to Cloverdale?
The Maple Ridge service is a new route, passing over the Golden Ears Bridge to the Willowbrook shopping and office complexes in Langley Township. TransLink’s most recent quarterly financials (to March 2012) suggest that vehicle traffic over the Bridge may be increasing, along with toll revenues, after a long period of extensive losses. Bus ridership over the Bridge may be increasing too, but not into downtown Maple Ridge; the new terminus of the bus route is at Maple Meadows station, at the northern foot of the Bridge, where people pile off and ride the West Coast Express into the big city.
Summing up, for what it’s worth, the latest transit mini-shuffle suggests increasing demand for bus transit linking to rapid transit, and to schools (especially Simon Fraser University), and weak or so-so demand for transit to sub-regional community services.
Ms. Bula has also reported through the Globe and Mail that TransLink is expected to publish a new 10-year operating plan on September 17, 2012. This will be a bigger story than the service changes discussed above. The authority is struggling both with declining fuel tax revenues (check the financials) and the provincial government’s refusal to offer revenue alternatives. We’ll likely go “back to school” on regional transit issues, returning to the quarreling and kibbitzing of last spring, with at least a few people pointing to the transit system as evidence that the regional structure across all of Fraseropolis needs to be torn down and rebuilt. This (in my view) would represent a whole lot of effort for thin results, but I only get one vote.