With less than three months to go before the provincial election, Mayor Gregor Robertson and University of B.C. president Stephen Toope have joined together to push for a $2.8 billion subway linking the Broadway-Commercial transit hub to the university.
Robertson and Toope made their pitch at a press conference Thursday in which they released a KPMG report showing the lack of rapid transit along the busy Broadway corridor is a “weakness” to creating more jobs, particularly in the technology and health sectors.
But while the mayor and university president outlined the need for a subway to end the corridor’s gridlock and accommodate future employment and population growth, there was no sense the $2.8 billion tab will be picked up anytime soon from senior levels of government.
“The $2.8 billion is a big hurdle but it’s a necessary investment to improve transit in the region,” said Robertson, standing on a riser with Toope at the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre on West 10th Avenue, a health and research facility located in the corridor.
So far, the provincial government has not made a commitment to fund a 12-kilometre subway line to UBC. The government, however, has been aware of the need for a system for several years and identified that in its 2008 provincial transit plan.
With voters going to the polls May 14 in a provincial election, Robertson said funding the project is a “key issue” for candidates to address in their campaigns.
“There’s no question that decisions need to be made in the near term about investing in transit and we’ve seen stalling for the last couple of years,” he said.
In addition, Robertson said, the mayors council on regional transportation has yet to get better “funding tools” from government than relying on property tax to address transit needs in the region.
The tab for a subway will ultimately have to be funded by provincial and federal governments, with a possibility of a private partner similar to construction of the Canada Line.
Toope said it was premature to say whether UBC would be prepared to pick up any of the cost. Unlike the Vancouver Airport Authority, a partner in the Canada Line, he said the university does not have taxing authority and can’t impose user fees.
“If we were ever to move in that direction, it would be a very tough decision for the [university’s] board of governors and I’m not going to presuppose what the board would decide years or months ahead,” Toope said.
Toope pointed out UBC helped transform the Broadway corridor into one of North America’s fastest growing life science and technology hubs and contributes billions of dollars to B.C.’s economy.
But, he said, a better and stronger link between the campus, jobs and what he and the mayor say is the second largest business and innovation area in the province would bolster the economy.
“We’re not investing well enough to make sure that we will continue to be competitive with other great world cities that are making fundamental investments right now to ensure commercial connectivity,” said Toope, pointing to Toronto as an example.
With employment and population along the corridor expected to grow by 150,000 in the next 30 years, the mayor said a subway is the only transit option that can meet the massive growth.
“Our transportation system is not ready — it’s not even close,” said Robertson, noting that 500,000 transit riders are passed up every year along the corridor because of the demand on the transit system.
The KPMG report said a light rail system would require major above ground construction and not be able to accommodate the corridor’s population and anticipated growth.
The corridor is North America’s busiest bus route and carries more than 100,000 transit riders per day, twice the ridership of the SkyTrain Millennium Line and equal to the Canada Line.
The mayor’s push for the subway comes as Surrey mayor Dianne Watts continues to lobby government for investment in transit for her municipality.
Surrey has six kilometers of SkyTrain track and needs another 30 kilometres, said Watts, adding that the preferred system would be at grade and cost $1.8 billion.
“With Vancouver, it’s moving people from point A to point B,” she told the Courier. “For us, it’s about shaping the city, shaping the community and making sure the infrastructure is in place.”
When asked if transit improvements should first go to Surrey instead of Vancouver, Watts said she “didn’t want to get into that.”
“The fact is that we both need it,” she said, echoing Robertson’s call for better funding tools to address transit needs in the region. “The funding model and the governance piece are key to getting anything. There’s no more that we can do with the provincially legislated funding tools. So the legislation has to be changed to broaden that a bit — whether it’s looking at the carbon tax, whether it’s looking at a road pricing model, the legislation has to change before we can move forward.”
Watts noted she already publicly declared Surrey’s need for transit investment and wasn’t put off by not being invited to Thursday’s press conference in Vancouver.
The KPMG report cost $100,000, split evenly between the City of Vancouver and UBC.