COLUMN: TransLink may be nearing the end of the line

It was confirmed Tuesday that there will be no rapid buses from Surrey or Langley on the Port Mann Bridge to the Lougheed SkyTrain station – at least for now.

TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis said the planned bus service expansion is on hold, as TransLink has been ordered to find cost savings, is undergoing a provincial audit, and the Mayors’ Council has rescinded earlier approval for a property tax increase to fund  expansion of bus service south of the Fraser. Also on hold is a B-Line service for buses on King George Highway, which is one of Surrey’s busiest transit corridors.

This is the latest and perhaps most disheartening blow in a steady series of punches to the residents of the South Fraser region, who are already upset about tolls. Within a year, all who use the Port Mann Bridge will be paying tolls. The Golden Ears Bridge does offer an alternative, but it is already tolled.

Those who want to drive along the South Fraser Perimeter Road from 176 Street west and get a free crossing via the Pattullo Bridge are welcome to do so, but heavy congestion is almost a certainty. The same can be expected on Nordel Way and routes to the Alex Fraser Bridge. The crossing may be free, but drivers will pay a stiff price in time and extra gas to get there.

Now comes word that there may not even be a transit alternative, as has been promised since the new Port Mann Bridge and freeway improvement project was announced.

This is a body blow to Surrey and Langley, in particular residents in the northern half of the two municipalities. Many people live there so they are within easy range of the Port Mann.

Now they have been told to expect to pay $120 a month in tolls, and not to take transit, because there won’t be a service for them to use.

All this comes as finishing work continues on a giant park and ride lot on 86 Avenue, just east of 200 Street. This parking lot, which would have attracted many drivers from Surrey and Langley, includes an underpass to allow buses to easily access both sides of the freeway. It has been built at substantial expense, with the provincial and federal government providing much of the money.

In addition, the Port Mann Bridge and approaches are being built with specified bus lanes. Will these lanes sit empty, if no buses are using the structure? How much taxpayer funding has gone for naught, if the bus lanes aren’t used?

TransLink has significant problems, and a majority of mayors voting against the additional property tax isn’t surprising, given that the province has cut off almost all other funding alternatives. However, it’s simply wrong that mayors of Burnaby, New Westminster and Vancouver, who enjoy transit service Surrey residents can only dream about, can so capriciously cut off a service here that many were planning to use.

It’s time that South Fraser MPs, MLAs and mayors rise to protest the complete snubbing of this community, and disregard for taxpayers’ dollars already spent to provide this park and ride lot – and a bus-only lane on the new bridge.

The way this issue has been handled shows just how out of touch TransLink is with those south of the Fraser, who provide it with significant tax revenues.

Jarvis said TransLink’s first priority is to keep existing services operating. This means it is more important to run mostly-empty buses in Burnaby at 11 p.m. than to run buses from Langley and Surrey to the Lougheed SkyTrain station during rush hour.

If this decision is not reversed quickly, South Fraser leaders will likely have just one alternative – to begin planning an exit from TransLink.

A separate system here that connects to TransLink would likely be better-run and it would most definitely serve the needs of residents on this side of the river.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.

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