I don’t know if you caught the hissy fit Surrey’s mayor threw last week. Dianne Watts was stamping her foot at TransLink because, she says, she only “heard recently” that a new express bus line hauling people in from the ’burbs over the new Port Mann Bridge would not stop in her city, specifically at 156th Street and Highway 1.
Now if you believe she was taken by surprise and only heard recently, you would also have to believe that Watts damaged more than her back when she was knocked off a horse last year.
But what gave her performance credibility is this: On the face of it, it may have made sense to have that bus stop in Surrey. But the fact is that any inkling of a plan for that stop was ditched back in 2007.
That decision was made during the earliest stages of planning for the new bridge. Importantly, there was also a proposal for a development at that particular highway intersection. The developer decided not to proceed and the idea of a stop was dropped.
Evidence of that decision is obvious. As a TransLink spokesperson explained to me regarding the exit from the highway at 156th: “There isn’t the infrastructure to safely stop the bus on those ramps right now.”
But there is a rapid bus that will come down Highway 1 and exit at 156th to carry passengers, including some from Surrey, to the Expo line Surrey Central Station more efficiently now because of a new HOV lane.
So what, you may well ask, is this really about? A couple of things:
For starters, Watts has been in a running battle with TransLink at least since she bailed out of the job as the first Chair of the TransLink Mayor’s Council in 2010.
That was after she realized local political leaders on that council had been made toothless by the then-Liberal premier Gordon Campbell and his transportation minister, Surrey MLA Kevin Falcon. Recall that they inserted an appointed board between the mayors and the TransLink bureaucracy to effectively make the major decisions.
Watts exhibited her disdain for TransLink — and made a strategic error one could argue — when she called for and got auditors to search for waste at the transportation authority before coughing up any more of her citizens’ property taxes to fund future projects.
That would have been the third audit in recent times; the previous two were conducted by the province’s comptroller general and then the independent TransLink commissioner Martin Crilly in advance of a request by TransLink for a fare hike he would refuse.
The results of those audits combined with a persistent refusal by the province to provide TransLink with a sustainable funding option hurt Watts’ constituents more than they helped.
TransLink found itself forced to eat up its cash reserves and sell off real estate. At the same time, they reduced services on low volume routes in the ’burbs such as Langley and Surrey and put those resources in higher utilized areas like Vancouver.
But secondly, there is a tug of war between Watts in Surrey and Mayor Gregor Robertson and his crowd in Vancouver as to who will be blessed by TransLink regarding their latest transit infrastructure aspirations.
Watts has already made her pitch for a light rail system in Surrey. And this week, Vancouver council was presented with a proposal from their staff for a $2.8 billion subway line on the Broadway corridor and out to UBC.
Surrey’s proposal assumes new development and, therefore, ridership, will grow around the new line. Vancouver’s proposal will serve a population that is already overwhelming the existing system and continues to grow.
Consider Watt’s hissy fit an attempt to draw attention her way and away from Vancouver. But as the current chair of the TransLink Mayor’s Council, North Vancouver District Mayor Richard Walton points out: “The reality is the funding isn’t there for either of them.”