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Vancouver to Surrey: Après vous, mon ami

December 13, 2012

Around the Mayors’ Council table at TransLink, Vancouver and Surrey had a nice thing going: “We each need transit; let’s built both.  Together.”

Rather than try to compete for (at this point, non-existent) dollars to proceed with SkyTrain on Broadway or three light-rail lines in Surrey, Robertson and Watts were making the case that we needed to find funds so that both could happen at the same time.  Each made the case for their projects, but avoided trying to trump the other.

Up until this week:

Vancouver should pare down its overly ambitious plan for a $2-billion-plus buried SkyTrain line along Broadway toward UBC, says Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts. …

“We can have all the grandiose ideas that we want but unless that sustainable funding policy is in place, nothing’s going to happen,” she said.

“Vancouver wants to push their agenda and they have every right to do that. But I would suggest that the multi-billion-dollar project that they’re proposing is not going to fly with residents in Surrey – and Surrey residents will be contributing to it.”

It’s the first time Surrey representatives have taken a direct shot at Vancouver’s plans.

– Surrey Leader, December 10

Perhaps that was just a dose of reality therapy.  It may be possible that we can find a mechanism that would generate the billions needed for both projects to proceed – but I wouldn’t bet on it.  The delay-and-divide strategy of the Province has worked too well for them to give it up.

Transportation Minister Polak has required that the regional mayors meet three conditions before she’ll even consider a request for new revenue sources:

  • The Mayors’ consensus for the priorities of the region
  • Public support for new funding tools
  • Affordability, increasing revenue from properties around transit and “no negative impact on the economy.”

That last one is a huge out, but it’s the first one that is sure to divide Surrey and Vancouver, given that the Province will likely insist that one municipality’s priority be rated over the other.

So what should Vancouver do?

Suggest that Surrey go first.  And then Vancouver to follow as a very quick second.

In part, that’s just recognizing the inevitable: there’s no way Vancouver would find the votes around the regional table.   Who would vote to, yet again, bump a surburban municipality down the list so that Vancouver can get yet another hugely expensive rapid-transit line?  And deprive the municipality that has the only tolled bridges in the region.  The one with the fastest rate of growth.  The one paying over a hundred million a year to TransLink, with few improvements – not even a bus stop for the new Port Mann express – to show for it.  And then be asked to pay more for Vancouver’s benefit.

Dianne Watts would hardly need to raise her voice in order to ensure an overwhelming majority of support.  Vancouver would be lucky to get a single additional vote.  Oh yeah, maybe Electoral Area A (the UEL) – the one with the institution, UBC, that says it doesn’t intend to contribute to the cost of the line which will benefit its real-estate development.

Anyway, Vancouver is going to be engaged internally in a huge debate over technology, construction impacts, route and potential rezonings.  How likely is it that it could resolve all that before Surrey is ready to lay track?

So Vancouver, if it’s realistic, should be getting behind Surrey in order to ensure a regional consensus, a united front, and a chance to come in quickly – with Surrey’s support – to address a need that is, in fact, regional in scope.

Sometimes coming in second is the winning strategy.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. yvrlutyens permalink
    December 13, 2012 2:08 pm

    If decreasing carbon use is necessary to maintain the human habitability of the planet then having a grandiose plan for survival is better than a modest plan for suicide. A certain supply of schemes is also necessary to appeal to the public. People are more likely to pay for specific projects over more transit as a general concept. As to the specifics of the suggestion, this is totally sound. Surrey should get the rapid transit expansion first as adjunct to improved forms of development and the Broadway line ought to be completed shortly afterward.

    But speaking of grandiose, Mayor Watts has proposed LRT lines that would cost way more than bus lines but add little or nothing in terms of service. Yes they are smoother but is smoothness really a regional transit priority? I’m with Skytrain for Surrey on this one. And speaking further of grandiose, Vancouver or Translink ought at least to cost out a cut-and-cover tunnel under Broadway to see what the price differential would be. Avoiding a year’s worth of inconvenience and adding in a hundred years’ of inconvenience of having deeper bored stations does not seem like something that we should be spending a lot of money on.

  2. Adam Fitch permalink
    December 13, 2012 2:22 pm

    Well said, Gord.

  3. December 13, 2012 3:55 pm

    I could not disagree more. The current government’s mandate is at an end and they have absolutely no reason to come up with a transit funding formula in time for the election – which, on present polling, they will lose, and lose badly. It does not matter what the Mayors propose – it will get rejected by the Minister.

    Of course we need a regional growth strategy – not just one for transit or transportation but one that looks at an integrated approach to a future that looks increasingly grim, and which this government’s policies have left us ill prepared to face. There is no chance at all we could get that sorted out in a few months.

    The last thing any of the Mayor’s – including those of Vancouver and Surrey – should do is dance to the BC Liberal’s tune. The BC Liberals cannot deliver anything worth having at this stage.

    The current jockeying for position is foolish and undignified. There is no money on the table for a major transit expansion and will not be for a long time as the provincial revenue streams from oil and gas are not what was expected and are unlikely to recover any time soon. And there is a whole lot of trouble in other sectors – like forestry, health and education – all of which will be competing for more funding.

    • yvrlutyens permalink
      December 13, 2012 6:30 pm

      Funding transit expansion is difficult right now, but that does not mean that we should throw up our hands and give up. Lots of things in life are difficult but they still happen. And planning for the next round of transit expansion will take a while. The funding problem does not need to be sorted right now while we decide what transit projects are worthwhile.

      I also don’t think that the change in government will mean much. The provincial budget is driven by heath care costs. It is not above government’s power to do something about that, but they have not been inclined to do so probably because they have not felt much pressure from the people to do so. (Hands up everyone that wants to cut health services or add user fees?) Funding more transit will likely require more local money, and it will take time to reach a consensus that such a funding mechanism is worthwhile. We might have another change in government before that happens. The Get On Board project has suggested that the people really are ready for a new funding mechanism and it is only the feeble politicians who are holding up progress. I doubt this. Many people do not seem ready for something like comprehensive road pricing, and any politician who instituted it upon an unprepared population might as well be getting on board the guillotine. See the HST.

      All of which is a roundabout way of saying that those of us that are advocates for improved transit have some work to do and there is no harm in doing it even if the way forward is not yet clear.

  4. Angleterre permalink
    December 13, 2012 4:00 pm

    UBC is a traffic generator for the whole region. Surrey is not.

    • Kenneth Souder permalink
      December 14, 2012 12:07 am

      May I ask how you came to this conclusion? To me, both are great traffic generators (UBC attracts traffic, and Surrey creates it), but if you want to have a livable region, focusing on Surrey as the next priority is very important. What I mean is that, if you give UBC a transit line, yes, it will be used, but it will not spur a greater change in the region. All it will do is satisfy the current demand that there is while letting demand elsewhere build continuously until the only option for people elsewhere is to drive.

      If places such as Surrey are given the priority, however, then growth in the faster metabolizing outer parts of the regions can be shaped for the better. I do not mean to ignore the UBC line; it will need a rapid transit line in the near future to relieve the pressure on the system, but taking care of future growth needs to be the priority right now.

      • Kenneth Souder permalink
        December 14, 2012 12:14 am

        I would like to also say that both lines are VERY necessary as they will both be serving the great demand for transit that there is in this region. What I meant when I said priority, was in the context that there will be likely a window of time between these two projects where one will have to go first and the other last, even though that window will hopefully be as small as possible.

      • December 14, 2012 12:31 am

        Well said!

  5. Sean Nelson permalink
    December 13, 2012 6:00 pm

    Stephen, while it’s true that there’s no money on the table I do think it’s appropriate to keep reminding the public about the issues. Facts like “6,000 pass-ups every day on Broadway” are an important part of the discussion about why we NEED new funding sources. We have to keep that need in the public’s mind if they’re going to look favourably on any talk about funding increases, no matter where they come from.

  6. Richard Campbell permalink
    December 13, 2012 6:18 pm

    Most of this is drama manufactured by the media. If you read Watts’ comments, they are actually supportive of the Broadway Line to
    Arbutus. The only issue is what happens west of Arbutus. The cost can be brought down by delaying the stations west of Arbutus and UBC has already indicated they will pay for a UBC station. The UBC Line will be quite a money machine generating a lot of ridership revenue that will likely be able to cover some of the capital costs. The business case is so strong for the line it makes sense to do it sooner rather than later.

    And of course there is no money for these projects yet. The options are still under discussion. Once the options are desided, that is when the money will start to be committed.

    A good idea not to get distracted in the drama that typically happens around large transit and road projects everywhere.

    It is also not useful to confuse the issue with poorly conceived “alternatives” that are not viable solutions, like LRT on 16th. Even Rail for the Valley doesn’t like that option.

  7. Richard Campbell permalink
    December 13, 2012 6:29 pm

    Watts’ states that she wants more info on the case for SkyTrain to UBC, which is a reasonable position. The use of “grandiose” was perhaps unfortunate.
    Watts said Monday a roughly $2-billion option to build a SkyTrain line to Arbutus Street connecting to UBC via rapid buses would be “more palatable” than a $2.8-billion underground line all the way.

    “I think personally the sheer expense of it is a challenge,” she said, “and there has to be consultation with the rest of the region if there is an expectation that there’s SkyTrain and tunnelling all the way to UBC, because part of the TransLink piece is that everybody in the region contributes to infrastructure, so that’s where it would be a challenge for us with a price-tag that high if Surrey didn’t get a say.”

    She suggested it might help if Vancouver city planners, who favour an uninterrupted rapid transit line all the way to UBC, made a presentation to the TransLink mayors’ council explaining their rational.

  8. December 13, 2012 8:02 pm

    With respect to the BC Liberals, they will not be making these decisions at all. We can all see which way the wind is blowing and barring a significant miracle, Christy Clark will not be Premier by this time next year. There may not be all that many BC Liberal MLAs left in Victoria by this time next year.

    None of that changes the dynamics that are at play in the region, where there is a real sense of competition between the various cities. We cannot and should not put off planning simply because the provincial government is in tatters.

    Transit is going to be a huge part of the debate during the next election in the Metro region. Vancouver supporting South of the Fraser Rapid Transit can undercut the temptation to play off one part of the region against the other, which is almost irresistible to the provincial government no matter who’s in office.

    Personally, I’m agnostic on whether to proceed with a Skytrain extension or an LRT project in Surrey. I think there are valid rationales for both projects and that if Surrey wants to proceed with a 104th and King George LRT that this is the project that should be pursued, with the caveat that the Fraser Highway route should be left open for a possible future Skytrain expansion.

    The fact is once the Evergreen Line opens and with a possible South of Fraser project either under construction or clearly queued to start afterwards, there is going to be even more pressure to deliver a rapid transit solution for Broadway and a provincial government of any stripe is going to find itself hard pressed to refuse. And as mentioned above, the priority in Vancouver is getting some kind of proper rapid transit to Central Broadway. UBC can be left for a future stage 2.

    Vancouver stepping up and supporting South of Fraser rapid transit as the region’s next major priority would be showing real regional leadership and build political capital to get a Broadway extension on the agenda.

  9. Guest permalink
    December 13, 2012 8:50 pm

    Who to serve first…

    – Gainfully employed commuters who are
    (a) headed into town from Surrey (3 zones @ $5.00 a trip); or
    (b) headed to the Broadway office and hospital district; or

    – University students travelling on discounted U-Passes (paying $30 / month (due to a Provincial subsidy) for unlimited travel (and complaining about it)).

    Which is more cost effective?

    • K.C. permalink
      December 13, 2012 11:34 pm

      (a) Surrey commuters wouldn’t even be choosing this option if it’s a tiresome process once you get to Commercial-Broadway. Sure, you build LRT/SkyTrain in Surrey while even more passengers try to funnel out of Commercial-Broaway onto the 99 B-Line.

      There’s no either/or.

      Both Broadway and Surrey should be absolute priorities and should both be built at the same time. On Vancouver’s part, building up to Arbutus is a good compromise. Not ideal, as there’s certainly the demand from UBC alone west of Arbutus, but if it takes another generation to get to UBC from Arbutus then so be it.

      And I have to applaud Watts and Robertson for both showing true leadership and not trying to override the other. At least, not yet.

    • Adam Fitch permalink
      December 18, 2012 6:01 pm

      Guest, I am not sure of the details of the U-pass system, but I think that UBC transit pass buyers are not subsidized by the provincial government. they are subsidized by all the students who do not buy passes, but who pay for the U-pass system as a compulsory payment added onto their student union fee.

  10. Richard permalink
    December 13, 2012 9:57 pm

    A real shame some are trying to turn this into a divisive debate about who goes first. Neither Surrey nor Vancouver are even suggesting that they should go first. Both the UBC Line and rapid transit in Surrey are large projects that will take many years to complete. We can start both at the same time. They will take eight to ten years to complete anyway.

    Over the last twelve years, in the region, there has been $12 billion spent on transit, roads, stadiums and convention centres, $1 billion a year. Even for the most expensive options the total for Surrey RT and the UBC Line is a bit over $5 billion. We can clearly afford both over 8-10 years and have some left over for other priorities.

    Working together to create a great transit network across the region is obviously the only way forward.

    • K.C. permalink
      December 13, 2012 11:35 pm

      Agreed. It’s quite clear the money is there, and that this is not an undertaking we are unable to achieve.

  11. December 13, 2012 11:25 pm

    Given the current Moody etc down grading . . . pie in the sky!

  12. December 14, 2012 12:34 am

    To be realistic is to gain a bit of maturity.

    Taking your turn to have track lay in your community is neither mature neither responsible:
    It is childish and parochial attitude.

    What about time to assess project on their objective respective merits for the region as a whole.
    (something like being part of it, but of course it is only one aspect), quantify it, quantify the risk, and then invest tax $ where and when it provides the greatest benefit with the greatest visibility,

    Translink has already did some work on that provide some preliminary direction, it certainly needs to be continued.

    In the meantime, to paraphrase Polack, statu quo on Broadway is not an option and if priority need to be done, and it will: What is the position of Surrey regarding the Massey Tunnel or/and Pattullo bridge Replacement vs Transit investment in his own backyard ?

  13. April 22, 2013 3:15 pm

    A hypothetical Surrey commuter using the proposed new Fraser Highway LRT and heading to Central Broadway would have to transfer to SkyTrain at King George Station and then to whatever mode (bus, LRT or Milennium Line extension) at the awful Broadway/Commercial node to reach his/her destination. This even leaves out how that hypothetical rider would get to the LRT in the first (and last) place. I’m guessing many if not most trips would be by by car or bus, rather than walking or biking – yet another mode. So, a minimum of 3 modes and maybe 4 in one direction. This is neither a seamless journey nor a pleasant one to anticipate.


  1. Surrey, Vancouver break transit truce | Civic Surrey
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