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COLUMN: Bus Rapid Transit sounds attractive – on the surface

TransLink’s look at 10 options for rapid transit expansion in the Surrey area offers some hope that, some day, Surrey residents will have a decent transit service.

But it also comes with many questions.

The first and perhaps the most important is finances. TransLink is having trouble coming up with funds for the Evergreen Line in Coquitlam. This project has been on the drawing board for at least 15 years, and now Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom says it won’t be complete until at least 2014.

If a project that has had so much work done on it – and has been a top priority for years – can’t get funded, how will any Surrey rapid transit project ever see the light of day?

Several Surrey councillors like the idea of Bus Rapid Transit, using a separated roadway in the midst of an existing road – one which could be eventually turned into an LRT line.

On the surface, this sounds attractive. Faster bus service will get more people to use transit, and LRT can eventually take over for buses when there are  sufficient passenger volumes.

However, the costs for the separated roadways are very high – $950 million for roadways along Fraser Highway, King George Boulevard and 104 Avenue. Where will TransLink get that kind of money?

As Paul Hillsdon asks on his Civic Surrey blog, this system seems designed to mainly move people to the SkyTrain line and on into Vancouver. Where is the incentive for more Surrey residents to use it for trips within Surrey?

As he put it, “Once again, TransLink’s designs are made specifically for regional commuters, ignoring the 85 per cent of South Fraser residents who do not cross the Fraser River to go to work.”

TransLink is suggesting a BRT system running as far as Langley and South Surrey/White Rock, yet it can’t even find enough funds to start a single bus route between Langley and White Rock – a service that has been planned, promised and withdrawn numerous times.

The answer is not simply to give TransLink access to more tax dollars, as it keeps stating. Residents of the South Fraser region are paying far too much tax to TransLink, in terms of the service they receive.

Vancouver residents have excellent transit service and do not need cars for day-to-day use.

Surrey residents have inadequate, or in some cases, non-existent transit service. They pay more towards it, in zone transit fares, and in gas tax, as many must own cars in order to work.

TransLink is again wanting to bring in a car tax. This, too, weighs more heavily on South Fraser residents, who own cars as a necessity, and have fewer options when it comes to using transit.

People who live in Surrey will also pay more when the new Port Mann Bridge opens, even though that money won’t go to TransLink.

There are no plans to bring in tolls on any other bridges in the region. TransLink, the provincial government and Metro Vancouver are, in effect, punishing people for living in Surrey.

The current TransLink model is not working well for the region south of the Fraser. While TransLink says it is more amenable to boosting service here, in reality there has been little expansion.

There is continued talk of a rapid transit line to UBC, yet there isn’t enough money to start a bus route between Langley and White Rock. Something definitely does not add up.

TransLink wants public feedback on its rapid transit plans. These can be accessed

It needs to get its financial house in much better order, and start treating Surrey as the big city that it is, in order for these plans to really be taken seriously.

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