As a young man, whenever I had to take a bus, I would always ask in a loud voice, “What’s the fare?” so other passengers would not think I was a regular bus user.
Today I am somewhat embarrassed by this past behaviour since like an increasing number of Metro residents, my attitude towards public transit has changed.
Rather than avoid it, I favour it since it allows me to check email, enjoy a few drinks without worry and avoid costly parking. Regular transit use can also contribute to better health.
I have been thinking about public transit this past week as a result of Mayor Gregor Robertson’s election promise to build a subway along Broadway, and a presentation from Metro Chair Greg Moore to a group of planners and real estate professionals.
Moore, who is mayor of Port Coquitlam, is one of the region’s most affable and intelligent politicians. He has a particular interest in transportation since he graduated from SFU in Urban Geography.
His presentation included highlights of the Mayors’ Council transportation plan released this past June. It notes Metro’s population is expected to grow by more than a million people over the next 30 years. That’s 35,000 people every year on average, equal to the population of Penticton.
A large percentage of this growth will happen south of the Fraser in Surrey and Langley.
Currently there are approximately six million daily trips around Metro: 109,000 by cycling, 667,000 by walking, 848,000 by transit, 970,000 by car passengers, and 3.4 million by car drivers.
Another million people could translate into another 1.4 million daily car trips unless we change how we get around.
To meet the challenges of growth and congestion in a way that is affordable and fair, the Mayors’ Council has developed a 10-year transportation investment plan.
It includes a new, safer Pattullo Bridge; a 25 per cent increase in regular bus service, primarily south of the Fraser; and 11 new B-Line routes providing rapid bus service.
Improved rail service will include upgrades to the West Coast Express, the Millennium and Canada Lines, and new Light Rail Transit lines in Surrey.
Of greater interest to Vancouverites is what the plan proposes along Broadway. The planners and real estate professionals in attendance were surprised by what Moore had to say.
In the first 10 years, the Millennium Line would be extended west from VCC–Clark along Broadway to Arbutus Street at which point everyone going to UBC would transfer to waiting B-line buses. Many wondered how well this would work.
Eventually there would be either a further extension of SkyTrain or light rail out to UBC.
What most of the audience did not know is that while the Mayors’ Council endorsed a tunnelled line along Broadway, it is contingent upon a partnership agreement with the City of Vancouver, which would be responsible for the incremental cost associated with tunneling “beyond that which was technically or functionally required.”
Stated another way, if an underground line is preferred for aesthetic reasons, something most of us would endorse, the City of Vancouver will be responsible for the additional cost, currently estimated at $500 million.
The mayors, especially those from Burnaby, Richmond and New Westminster, adopted this position since they had to live with elevated lines in their municipalities and questioned why Vancouver should get special treatment.
While City of Vancouver planners are hopeful undergrounding the entire line to Arbutus and beyond can be justified on technical grounds, I am advised only that portion from VCC-Clark to Main Street could be so rationalized. From Main westward, the justification is aesthetic, meaning Vancouver will have to come up with the extra bucks, presumably from other levels of government and the private sector.
However, as long as Robertson opposes Stephen Harper’s desire for pipelines and oil tankers, and if Dianne Watts wins South Surrey for the Conservatives (and the Conservatives retain government), I would not be surprised if Surrey’s light rail plans proceed before a Broadway subway. Maybe it is time to reconsider that alternative light rail proposal along Broadway all the way to UBC. Or elect a new mayor who gets along very well with Harper.