Progress being made, but funding still a challenge

Kim Slater

Dec. 14, 2012

While progress has been made in developing transit plans for the region- TransLink’s North Shore Area Transit Plan (Oct. 2012) is a great example- funding the implementation of recommended actions and meeting growing demand for transit in general may be more difficult.

TransLink’s NSATP outlines a transit vision with investment priorities for the North Shore Area, addressing a growing population that increasingly uses the system for both commuting and non-commuting trips. Thirteen high priority projects have been identified that will strengthen the Expanded Frequent Transit Network (FTN) that is part of the 2040 Transit Network Vision. These include the introduction of two-way service along Queens Rd. and Mathers Ave., increasing capacity and frequency of routes #230 and #240, and new connections to the N24 NightBus. The plan also states that; “the timing and delivery of NSATP priorities will be contingent on regional funding priorities.”

With an increasing populace and growing demand for transit in the Sea to Sky Corridor. North Shore, Vancouver, Surrey and South Fraser, TransLink has its work cut out for it addressing competing priorities and allocating funding accordingly.

A provincial audit of TransLink that was released this past October fell short of its objective to find funds to cover improvements to the Lower Mainland’s $1.36 billion per annum system. The savings identified are “not enough to meet future transit needs” said Mary Polak, Minister of Transportation, at a news conference.

Metro Vancouver Mayors have been lobbying the province for increased funding from additional sources, outside of property and gas taxes, and fare hikes. The province has been so far unwilling to consider additional revenue streams, stating that TransLink needs to operate more efficiently first.

The province did, however, offer a caveat. It might be willing to find other funding sources for transit in the Lower Mainland, if public support can be demonstrated and if certain criteria are met. Criteria include affordability for families, tapping regional not provincial sources of funds, and generating revenue from added property values along transit routes. Affordability is paramount especially as fare rates along key routes (i.e. Canada Line, SkyTrain, Seabus, HandyDarts) are scheduled to jump 10% starting Jan. 1, 2013.

Outside the Lower Mainland, service availability remains the key concern. A couple of weeks ago, TransLink announced that its new express 555 bus will not be stopping anywhere between Langley and the Lougheed SkyTrain Station. Talks between TransLink, BC Transit and Squamish’s Transportation Committee have also not yielded the much sought after commuter service between Squamish and Vancouver, or extended service throughout the corridor. Like TransLink, BC Transit is also trying to manage fiercely competing priorities, making progress in developing plans like Regional Transportation Study, but with no funding strategy at this time to implement recommendations.

TransLink and BC Transit remain committed to working with local, regional and provincial governments, First Nations, businesses and the public to progress a long‐term transit vision that balances trade-offs between benefits and costs.

Great strides are also being made at the municipal level, notably with the District of Squamish hiring Kimberley Armour as the Transportation Planner to design improvements to the Ride Share Service and help implement other aspects of the Transportation Action Plan (2012). At the December 11th, Transit Committee meeting, Armour identified a number of service improvements and cost-cutting measures including matching service to school bells times and receiving the bulk rate fuel discount. “Progress is being made and there is also room for improvement, “ she said.

The Sea to Sky Clean Air Society and SquamishCAN are supportive of these efforts and are dedicated to participating in the dialogue needed to find solutions. Last spring, the two groups co-hosted an event called Compute the Commute that brought together key stakeholders, including commuters, transit providers notably TransLink and BC Transit, as well as local decision-makers to discuss various options towards improving service throughout the corridor.

It was a positive event that strengthened the relationships between stakeholders.  Commitments were made to resolve the cost of service issue with the possibility of another dialogue-focused event planned in the future. While we’re not there yet, it is encouraging to know that transit providers are working with local leaders and civil society to find solutions that work for commuters and will serve projected regional growth. The cost of not finding a solution is just too high.