Phasing in a transit spending plan

Detail from the September 2016 TransLink mayors' Phase One announcement. This shows promised bus service improvements in Surrey including immediate rapid bus service on Fraser Highway.

Detail from the September 2016 TransLink mayors’ Phase One announcement.  This shows promised bus service improvements in Surrey including immediate rapid bus service on Fraser Highway.

The latest announcement on transit from Metro Vancouver mayors is their first major effort to regroup since voters shot down the idea of a transit sales tax in 2015.

This matters because the mayors and British Columbia’s provincial governments have been deadlocked for years on how to fund transit, and demand for service has outrun supply on key routes. Affordable public transit supports labour mobility, educational opportunity, independence and self-reliance for seniors and teens, and growth for pedestrian-focused urban villages, and it also reduces the number of cars on the road.

The 23-member Mayors’ Council has presented Phase One of what’s billed as a three-phase plan. The proposed improvements would be funded by federal and provincial contributions, property tax increases, fare hikes and two further tax measures. I won’t speculate on where this is going, but here are thoughts on the status of the proposal.

  • The mayors seem to have broken a version of their 2015 plan, which was priced at $7 billion, into three more digestible bits. Phase One costs are estimated at $2 billion, but the online materials don’t include a detailed cost breakdown or timetable. Improvements to bus service, which have been mapped in detail, are to begin in 2017, but the delivery dates on items such as rapid transit design and Skytrain car acquisition are not provided. The announcement then proposes dates for the start of Phases Two and Three, but these presumably depend on the fate of Phase One.
  • Public consultation on Phase One is to take place from October 11 to October 31, 2016, but there is no advance information on the process.
  • Two of the proposed tax measures to support Phase One are hypothetical. Both the new development tax and the new regional mobility charges would require agreement from the Province. The provincial minister responsible, Peter Fassbender, has said that the introuction of mobility charges will take 10 years or more.
  • Two of the three mayors who opposed the 2015 plan have expressed opposition to this one. Derek Corrigan of Burnaby, whose city is already well served by transit, voted against sending Phase One to public consultation. Michael Smith of West Vancouver agreed to consultation, but like Corrigan he has spoken against raising property taxes for TransLink. Nicole Read of Maple Ridge is looking at the biggest jump in bus service hours of any mayor — 65 per cent — including an all-new route to her own hillside neighbourhood. She sounded reasonably positive in initial reports.

The announcement indicates that the mayors have been spurred on by federal promises of “billions of dollars” for local transit improvements. There’s also a subdued suggestion that provincial promises have fallen short of expectations. The provincial government is facing an election in May 2017. Thirty-nine of the 85 provincial electoral districts are in Metro Vancouver.

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