Julienne Cajes gets ready to board the B-Line at Broadway and Commercial during yet another long commute to UBC. (Wayne Leidenfrost/PNG)
By Susan Lazaruk, The Province
UBC student Julienne Cajes has come to expect being passed up at Commercial Drive by the always-packed 99 B-Line bus heading west on Broadway for her morning commute.
“Sometimes the lineup goes all the way into the SkyTrain station by the escalators,” said the 18-year-old first-year arts student who travels from Coquitlam on the SkyTrain to transfer to the B-Line articulated express bus.
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After letting one or two buses go by — making her one of the 2,000 daily “passups” recorded on average by TransLink along the corridor — she will herd her way on, only to stand for about half the 45-minute trip to campus.
The populated and industry-rich corridor is expected to grow by 150,000 people in the next 30 years. That’s proof Vancouver needs a $2.8-billion subway from Commercial Drive to UBC, the city says.
Ride with Julienne Cajes on her long daily commute to UBC. (Video by Rafe Arnott/The Province)
In a different city, by a different bus stop, waits a frustrated Daryl Dela Cruz. He said he faces a 25- to 40-minute bus ride from Guildford to the nearest Surrey SkyTrain station.
The SkyTrain advocate said the lack of transit is affecting his post-high school plans because he may not be able to attend Kwantlen Polytechnic University, for instance, because of the long commute.
“It’s really quite horrible,” he said, adding he’s not alone. “There are so many young people [without cars] in Surrey.”
Surrey is making its case for $1.8 billion worth of rapid transit south of the Fraser River, which is expected to grow to a population of 750,000 over the next 30 years.
“There are 86 kilometres in the SkyTrain network and Surrey’s got six kilometres and that was built 23 years ago,” said Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts.
Daryl Dela Cruz is pushing for more SkyTrain in Surrey. (Richard Lam/PNG)
The debate over which city is more deserving of transit’s next megaproject is a moot point while discussion about where the money will come from remains stalled by a lack of new funding mechanisms, the mayors’ balking at raising property taxes and the transit commissioner’s capping of fares.
As gridlock grows, the mayors are calling on whoever wins the next election to make a decision about how transit expansion will be funded.
The mayors seek a source of sustainable, long-term funding for TransLink. They say new legislation that allows them to have a greater say in how transit is governed and how the money is raised is the only way to fix a system that doesn’t work.
“We’ve been at an impasse for years now,” said Richard Walton, chair of the Mayors Council on Regional Transportation. “Whether the NDP or the Liberals are elected, it’s the same issue that needs to be resolved.”
Making a decision on whether provincial politicians decide to raise funds through a vehicle levy, carbon tax, road pricing or sales tax is “a normal, tough part of doing their jobs,” he said.
“It’s a hot potato and you have to take the hot potato and take political responsibility for it.”
“We can’t always be raising property taxes,” said Mayor Watts. “We have to look at creative ways to fund the system,” including road pricing or tolls.
The Liberal government announced in its election platform last week that it would defer to voters on how to raise the money to grow transit, in a referendum to be held during 2014 municipal elections.
At an all-party forum on transportation on Thursday, Liberal transportation minister Mary Polak said mayors would come up with three or four options from which voters would select their preference.
NDP transportation critic Harry Bains immediately called a referendum a “shirking of responsibility.”
Meanwhile, the Mayors Council, made up of elected representatives from 23 local governments throughout Metro, complain they have had no input into transit decisions made by TransLink’s unelected board of directors since 2007.
“The mayors have had a fairly minimal role, and that’s what’s caused the dysfunction of the last four to five years,” said Walton. “There has to be an elected person at the top of the decision-making board.”
The system doesn’t function because “the decision makers and the funders aren’t sitting at the table at the same time,” agreed Fraser Institute economist Joel Wood.
“[The municipal and provincial politicians] want to take responsibility for new transit but each wants the others to be responsible for raising the funds,” he said. “Part of the reason the mayors will pick a vehicle levy or carbon tax is that they don’t want to take the [voters’] hit for property taxes.
“And the reason the governance structure does benefit the provincial politicians and why the province does have an interest [in continuing to approve funding] is they like being able to say no to a vehicle levy and gas taxes,” he said, because those mechanisms have proven unpopular in past.
Polak agreed there has to be a “better defined role for Mayors Council” and said talks are continuing around governance.
Meanwhile, Bains promised the NDP if elected would raise money for transit through a carbon tax and by rolling back corporate tax breaks.
But with TransLink already funded by a 17-cent-a-litre fuel tax, a 21-per-cent parking tax, a $1.90 monthly hydro levy as well as property taxes, a taxpayer advocacy group is urging restraint for transit.
“We’re going to have to learn to live within our means until the economy improves,” said Jordan Bateman of the Taxpayers Federation of Canada.
BY THE NUMBERS
Where TransLink’s funding came from (50 per cent is raised from fuel and property taxes and 30 per cent from fares) in 2011:
Source: TransLink annual report