Funding for Metro Vancouver transit: are we there yet?

Surrey Central SkyTrain station

Over the past 20 years, British Columbia and local governments have failed to agree on a long-term transit funding formula for Metro Vancouver.

The regional transit authority (TransLink) sits in a governmental neutral zone, neither provincial nor local, and it suffers for a lack of political champions.

We’ve seen successes, for example the recent opening of the Evergreen rapid transit extension, but we also have too-crowded buses on key routes in Vancouver, not enough buses in growing cities south of the Fraser, and long delays in launching rapid transit projects such as the Arbutus SkyTrain extension* and Surrey LRT.

On March 16, 2018, local mayors issued a statement indicating that the funding deadlock had been broken. We were headed for “the largest transit and transportation investment in Metro Vancouver history,” including the big rapid transit projects in Vancouver and Surrey. Funding would come from fare increases, property taxes and development cost charges, and increased revenue from higher transit ridership. This was conditional on a confirmation of funding from the provincial and federal governments.

Fraseropolis transitAfter hearing this optimistic announcement, I waited for something to go wrong. Some mayors would change their minds, or an anti-tax coalition would lead a citizens’ revolt.

Instead, Ottawa and Victoria announced an agreement on infrastructure spending, with $2,691,101,894 (and not a penny more) promised for “new urban transit networks and service extensions” over 10 years. And that means that everything is ready to go, right?

Well, not exactly. The mayors have “agreed on a plan to fund the regional share” of Phase Two of their 10-year Vision, but they have not agreed to fund the regional share. See the difference?

In May, 2018, TransLink will conduct further consultations, with surveys and an “engagement bus” to be stationed at key public events (as listed on page 6 of a recent mayors’ meeting agenda.) The mayors will then wait for a month, to see if something goes wrong. Could something go wrong? And then, on June 28, (according to page 7 of a different meeting agenda), the mayors will vote on whether to approve funding for Phase Two of their Vision. If the vote is positive, increased transit investment will proceed.

This matters because transit creates opportunities for low-income working people, students, seniors and teenagers, it improves labour mobility for the benefit of employers, it takes cars off the road wherever service is frequent and convenient, and it supports commercial activity in urban villages such as the many that are described on this site.

My thanks to the kind staff at TransLink for their transparency in explaining the status of this issue. Let’s hope the mayors’ June 28 vote is a non-event.

[* The official name of the Arbutus extension is now the Millennium Line Broadway Extension.]

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