COLUMN: Mayors’ transit plan needs funding source

Region's transit ambitions lofty, but achievable given proper funding

Last Thursday’s announcement from the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, outlining plans for a $7.5 billion transit and congestion relief capital plan, is ambitious but achievable.

The plan is the first concrete action from mayors outside the South Fraser region. They actually recognize there is a transit shortfall in the South Fraser region. It also calls for  upgrades to transit service in areas where it is already pretty good, such as Vancouver and Burnaby.

The biggest news in Surrey is funds for three separate LRT (at grade) rail lines. Lines on 104 Avenue from King George Boulevard to Guildford, and on King George as far south as Newton, are to be built within seven years. This will have an immediate effect on traffic congestion in North Surrey.

An LRT line from the SkyTrain at King George to Langley City is to be built within 12 years. In the meantime, a B-Line express bus service along Fraser Highway will be implemented. This is badly needed, as the buses are often filled to capacity before leaving Langley.

While driving along Fraser Highway in Fleetwood last Friday, I noticed 10 to 12 passengers waiting at most stops – far more than a bus that comes by every 15 minutes can accommodate.

Other bus routes in Surrey and Delta will see increased service, which are also long overdue. Overall, the plan calls for a 25 per cent increase in bus service and 400 new buses.

For far too long, the transit network has been focused on getting people to downtown Vancouver, while in reality there are destinations all across the region.

One thing that is missing is any mention of an express bus from Surrey across the Port Mann Bridge. A key promise made at the time the bridge was announced has not been fulfilled, and it appears there is no plan to fulfil it.

The Pattullo Bridge replacement is an interesting choice for the plan. It is costly, and it will only be four lanes, although it can be expanded to six lanes.

Most notably, it will be a toll bridge. That means that every single route from Surrey and Langley across the river will be subject to a relatively high toll. When the Massey Tunnel is replaced, there will be four toll crossings across the Fraser and just one free one – the Alex Fraser Bridge.

This is unacceptable.

And to its credit, the mayors recognized that. They acknowledge that the province needs to look at its tolling policy (which it is reviewing), and advocate for road pricing to replace uneven tolls.

The current tolling policy severely penalizes people who live south of the Fraser and travel regularly across the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges.

The big challenge with this plan is how to get voters to agree with the mayors’ ideas of how to pay for it. They propose tapping into the provincial carbon tax, but that is a non-starter. Their backup plan is to add a new regional carbon tax of about 5.5 cents per litre to the cost of gas.

They are prepared to reduce the gas tax to 11 cents per litre from 17 cents, but only after road pricing has been added – which is likely years away. So the price of gas would rise by 5.5 cents per litre soon, and (perhaps) be cut by six cents at some distant point, when that revenue is replaced by road pricing.

When TransLink boosted gas taxes by two cents to 17 cents per litre, to pay for the Evergreen Line, the effect was instant and dramatic. Many more people headed to the U.S. to buy gas, and often a great deal more.

Another 5.5 cent per litre tax will hurt, and likely kill off, many local businesses who are affected by cross-border competition. This is particularly true when gas is already $1.52 per litre.

The mayors should take a good hard look at the carbon-tax idea, and perhaps come up with some type of road pricing much sooner. For example, how about people who drive more paying a small surcharge on their car insurance?

The proposed carbon tax may be enough to lead voters to reject this plan, when it goes to referendum. As voter approval is required, it may mean a solid, forward-looking plan fails because of tax issues.

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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A past extreme weather response shelter set up for women inside Surrey’s Nightshift Street Ministries. (Photo: Chris Paul/nightshiftministries.org)
Homeless people in Surrey face ‘shocking and scary’ scenario this winter

Last winter there were nine Extreme Weather Response shelters in all of Surrey and White Rock. So far, during this pandemic, there are only five lined up for the coming winter

File photo
Surrey Mounties seeking dash-cam footage of Whalley road rage fight

Two men are alleged to have stabbed one another

The RCMP helicopter. (File photo)
Suspect escapes after police pursuit through Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford

Police chase involved two stolen vehicles, including one taken in Mission

IIO Chief Civilian Director Ron MacDonald. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Police watchdog concludes Mounties didn’t shoot Fleetwood teen at strip mall

IIO finds tragic death of teenager ‘not the result of any actions or inactions’ by the Surrey RCMP

Emergency crews shut down White Rock’s Five Corners district on Feb. 19, 2020 after an altercation left an elderly man in critical condition. (File photo)
Trial dates set in White Rock manslaughter case

Proceedings against Ross Banner, 71, set for June 2021 in Surrey Provincial Court

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Most Read