We are being asked to vote on a good transit plan in Metro Vancouver. But it is only a start. Even the mayors who developed it describe the plan as “neither everything we want nor all that we ultimately need.”
A Yes vote starts to meet the needs of seniors, people with disabilities, and lower and middle income people. Demand for public transit has soared, while service levels have remained practically unchanged over the past seven years. Extreme overcrowding has eroded reliability and safety, especially for seniors and people with disabilities. HandyDART service hours have been frozen since 2009, and as a result trip denials went up over 600 per cent before the contractor changed procedures to disguise the crisis. The 30 per cent increase in HandyDART and 25 per cent increase in bus service in the plan is a big step in the right direction, but not enough given that the number of people over 70 is expected to increase by 40 per cent in the next decade.
Lower and middle income people are being pushed increasingly into less transit-accessible areas of our region in order to find less expensive housing. At Metro Vancouver Alliance’s neighborhood transit forums, we heard how living without a car in these areas is a real challenge. But owning and operating even one car is a severe financial burden for many families, and unexpected repair bills can be enough to trigger a slide into homelessness. Inadequate transit means long walks to the bus, fewer opportunities for decent employment, and increased social isolation.
A Yes vote for the mayors’ plan will allow us to maintain our carbon footprint from transportation as our population grows. Let’s aim to do more and find ways to drastically reduce carbon pollution. The mayors’ plan is a good start, but we need to aim higher.
Younger people in our region, and around the world, are voting with their feet for public transit. In part, this is driven by the recognition that reducing the amount of fossil fuel burned in our cars is essential for dealing with the climate crisis. But this shift is also driven by the financial reality that driving even the most basic used car costs about $5,000 a year, and a new car $10,000 a year. With sky-high rents and insecure employment becoming the norm, doing the right thing for the climate becomes a necessity for many.
A Yes vote will bring transit improvements that will provide significant financial relief to people on moderate incomes, including the many younger people whose employment is precarious. But we should strive for better.
With a Yes vote, we’re not likely to see transit fare increases for several years. But many of the most vulnerable people in our region are socially isolated in part because paying the fare for social trips is already beyond their means.
The same high fares encourage people who own cars to drive rather than take transit. It is time to look seriously at reducing transit fares as a way to reduce social isolation and pollution.
While we wait for the outcome of the transit referendum, our provincial government is pushing ahead with a plan to replace the Massey Tunnel with a multi-billion dollar freeway bridge. Why is a freeway project, that is guaranteed to increase carbon pollution, being prioritized above transit improvements which would reduce pollution? This is a problem, but also an opportunity. We can fund better transit and lower fares partly by shifting public resources away from harmful projects. We can build on the Mayors’ Council Transit Plan. Transit can be made accessible and affordable, even for the most vulnerable of our residents.
We need to invest for our future. We are growing by a Port Moody every year, with a million more people expected over the next 30 years. And increasing the number of cars on our already crowded roads is simply not an ethical option given the climate crisis.
It is within our power to win this vote and to create better transit for our region. But a Yes vote in the referendum is not enough. Regardless of the referendum outcome, the Metro Vancouver Alliance will continue to work for a better and more affordable transit system in the coming years. Will you join with us to help create the transit system we really need?
Maria Robinson and Bet Tuason are members of the Metro Vancouver Alliance Transit Action Group. lliance.org.