The ‘yes’ side in the upcoming transit referendum got a boost at a public meeting Wednesday night at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Langley campus.
The meeting was organized by Nathan Pachal, who ran for Langley City council last fall and is a longtime transit advocate and blogger. He invited several speakers to give their reasons for voting ‘yes,’ including Mike Buda, executive director of the Mayors’ Council on Transportation and Dr. Victoria Lee, interim chief medical health officer of Fraser Health Region. About 50 people attended.
Buda addressed the ‘yes’ side’s challenges forthrightly, noting that criticism of TransLink has become the dominant narrative in the campaign thus far.
He went over several TransLink “myths.” He urged those who support the proposal for a 0.5 per cent sales tax increase to fund transit and transportation improvements to be fully aware of the facts about TransLink and use them in combating some of the myths.
The first is inefficiency.
“TransLink is actually one of the most efficient transit operators in North America,” he said, “and has one of the highest farebox recoveries of costs.”
Some routes of course are much more efficient. The 99 B-Line along Broadway in Vancouver, which is to be replaced by a subway west to Arbutus Street, only costs 55 cents per boarded passenger. Its buses are frequently jammed with passengers, transferring from the two SkyTrain lines at Broadway and Commercial.
Another is that TransLink vehicles are unreliable and constantly breaking down. “Buses and West Coast Express are almost 100 per cent reliable and on time,” he said. “The Toronto subway is 95 per cent reliable, and the area covered by the City of Toronto fits not about one-third of our map.”
TransLink has seen a 28 per cent growth in ridership in the last 10 years, and he expects it will rise another 25 per cent in the next 10 years.
He addressed the Compass card rollout. While stating that criticism is warranted, he noted that rolling out such systems is very complex and often takes close to a decade. He cited examples in both Toronto and Ottawa.
Fare evasion is another criticism. Buda said fare evasion ranges from about three to eight per cent in North American transit systems. TransLink experiences about 5.9 per cent fare evasion.
Buda said the mayors’ plan, which would be funded by the additional sales tax and capital contributions from the federal and provincial governments, will allow the region to greatly improve the transit system. Langley, Surrey and White Rock are expected to have twice as many residents and jobs by 2045.
“Your area is the front line for this growth,” he said.
Travel patterns are changing, and he said that the improvements to bus service are designed to better serve people making local trips in the South Fraser area.
When the LRT line is extended from Surrey City Centre to Langley City, Buda said the travel time will be reduced by 25 minutes. This will make a huge difference in commuting.
New B-Line express bus routes, including one on the highly-travelled Fraser Highway corridor used by the 502 and 503 buses, will be instituted beginning in 2016 if the plan goes ahead, he said.
The mayors’ plan calls for a dramatic increase in both jobs and homes that will be within walking distance of transit, he said.
Buda ended his remarks by saying that people who are not on the voters list can register to vote in the referendum until May 15.
Lee said a ‘yes’ vote has positive health implications. More transit use and more cycling lanes, both part of the plan, will lead to a healthier population, she said. People who walk or cycle regularly have much less chance of getting a chronic disease, she said.
People who walk, cycle or use transit regularly have a 38 per cent less chance of being overweight or obese, as compared to those who mostly use their cars to get around.
In the South Fraser region, almost 80 per cent of seniors use cars as their main means of transportation. Lee said more active seniors will have less exposure to and need for the health care system.
“The mayors’ plan will contribute to the health of Greater Vancouver residents,” she said. “All medical health officers have joined forces and are speaking publicly to support the plan.”
She said, from a personal perspective, she welcomes plans for more regular bus service in Surrey and Langley, as she uses transit sometimes and would use it more, if it was more convenient.
“Selfishly, it has the ability to cut my commute by 30 to 60 minutes,” she said.