Transit advocates were generally pleased with TransLink’s ambitious expansion plan unveiled Thursday, but their nemesis said he was “thrilled.”
Jordan Bateman, the B.C. director of the Candian Taxpayers Federation and a relentless critic of TransLink, predicted it will be easy to rally Metro Vancouver voters to defeat a new carbon tax that will be equivalent to a 5.5-cent-a-litre gas tax increase coupled with higher natural gas bills as well.
“We’ll go to the people with that any day of the week,” he said. “Let’s take it to the people and find out if TransLink really deserves more of our money.”
Asked whether – apart from the funding sources – he supports the major projects proposed in the plan, Bateman admitted he had not yet studied the details and said it was too early to say.
He did question the need for more West Coast Express commuter rail service north of the Fraser River when the Evergreen Line will soon extend SkyTrain in that direction as far as Coquitlam.
The plan would boost TransLink’s budget from $1.4 billion to $2.2 billion a year.
“It’s going to be very expensive for taxpayers,” Bateman said.
SFU City Program director Gordon Price applauded the plan and said Bateman’s determination to kill it without offering an alternative would leave “a second-rate transit system for a second-rate region.”
He said opponents wrongly assume TransLink service will be maintained under the status quo if the plan is defeated, when its declining gas tax take means service cuts would be forced, particularly as the population grows.
Price credited the leadership of Port Coquitlam Mayor and Metro board chair Greg Moore – the behind-the-scenes architect of the plan – for forging a “remarkable consensus” within just 12 weeks to meet a deadline set by the province.
“He got all those cats herded and singing the same meow.”
After spending $3.3 billion to build the Port Mann/Highway 1 project and a provincial decision close on a couple billion more to replace the Massey Tunnel, Price said it’s time transit upgrades get at least as high priority as infrastructure critical to economic development and growth.
Business groups, including the Surrey and Vancouver boards of trade, picked up that theme.
“Our economy cannot thrive without the efficient, reliable and safe movement of goods and people,” said Vancouver Board of Trade president Iain Black, who applauded the mayors “unprecedented” effort to tackle congestion.
Surrey board CEO Anita Huberman called it a “responsible transportation plan” that is “near perfect” for the region.
But Huberman said it’s “unfortunate” the province quickly ruled out the reallocation of existing carbon tax revenue.
“I have a feeling that we have a long road ahead of us around any transportation improvements,” she said.
Unionized transit workers and other groups representing students and transit users said they will press the province to authorize the referendum and then work to pass it.
Eric Doherty of the group Get On Board B.C. said the plan addresses chronic transit shortages in the region.
“Students, commuters and those who depend on public transit have been waiting for improvements for years – now we can see progress – but only if this positive plan is actually implemented.”