Trains, buses and cars, lots of cars

Candidates try to answer how we get from A to B

West Coast Express commuters can still only use the commuter train during the morning and afternoon rush-hours.

West Coast Express commuters can still only use the commuter train during the morning and afternoon rush-hours.

The experiment with mid-day West Coast Express service during last year’s Winter Olympics worked like a charm. The trains were packed and passengers happy about not having to drive into crowded Vancouver.

But an experiment is exactly what it was and expansion of the popular commuter rail service beyond the five rush-hour trains in the morning and evening is years away. Adding a midday train to make it easier to get to Vancouver isn’t even on TransLink’s to-do list.

Same goes for completion of the twinning of Lougheed Highway in east Maple Ridge.

Finishing a short stretch near Ruskin was shelved years ago when the B.C. government said there was no more money for that, for a while at least.

According to a recent report by the Toronto Board of Trade, Toronto as a Global City: Scorecard on Prosperity 2011, Vancouver and Toronto finish near the bottom in many categories that measure the extent of transit use.

While the federal government can dish out the dollars for major issues such as transportation, it’s really up to the province to decide when and how, says the current federal representative.

“That’s their decision to make, at the end of the day. I want them to know, as federal representative, these [West Coast Express expansion and Lougheed Highway twinning] are high priorities, as I see them,” says Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission MP Randy Kamp.

He pointed out the federal government has helped in the past, such as pitching in for the Pitt River Bridge. The Conservative government coughed up $90 million for that project, even though it was announced by the previous Liberal government of Paul Martin.

“The Liberals announced a lot of things. There was no guarantee they were actually going to invest in those things. We actually made those investments,” Kamp said.

“These were actual dollars spent under a Conservative government.”

The Conservatives also promised $400 million for the Evergreen SkyTrain line in Coquitlam, still to be built, which the Liberals hadn’t contemplated, he added.

Ottawa has also helped recently with twinning a short stretch of the Lougheed Highway, just west of Mission, and for the high-occupancy bus lanes under construction from 200th Street to Pitt River Bridge. It contributed $8 million of the $20-million price tag for the latter, through its Economic Action Plan.

Kamp says he also has met former B.C. transportation minister Kevin Falcon and MLAs Marc Dalton and Randy Hawes about the two priorities. But MPs can’t make commitments for other levels of government, he added.

Adding midday train service could also be easier thanks to the passage by the Conservatives in 2007 of Bill C-11. The bill gives agencies such as TransLink more clout and the ability to get a settlement for more track time with CP Rail. The NDP and Bloc Quebecois voted against the bill.

NDP candidate Craig Speirs the easiest way to improve local transportation is to add midday West Coast Express service, and thinks road tolls more gas taxes could help pay for the cost.

Maple Ridge should also continue its ongoing quest to get RapidBus service from the downtown to Coquitlam.

“We have asked for that consistently,” says the current Maple Ridge councillor.

Eventually, the corridors served by RapidBus could be used for light-rail transit, he said, adding as Maple Ridge’s satellite communities mature, they will draw more people and build ridership for transit.

“The argument that people love their cars is really starting to sound hollow.”

But any costly new transportation projects need careful study to make the business case, says Liberal candidate Mandeep Bhuller.

Any new project should be studied first, particularly in how it would complement other infrastructure, he said.

“I do appreciate we may be at the bottom of the list, but I think the work still needs to be done to make the case for specific transportation improvements.”

And he’s skeptical about the $400 million the federal government has allotted to the Evergreen line, wondering if it will be released in stages or used as leverage for more announcements.

“I would feel a lot more comfortable making that assumption if re-announcements weren’t such a high priority of the current government.

“It’s a great way to excite people and confuse people, who don’t have the time track which announcements they hear and when they hear them.”

For the Green party, the topic of transportation coincided with the party’s announcement this week calling for high-speed commuter rail lines between Edmonton and Calgary, Regina and Saskatoon, Windsor and Quebec, Sydney and Halifax.

“With downtown-to-downtown service and no airport security delays, it will make taking the train faster and easier than flying,” Green leader Elizabeth May said in a release.

In B.C., local Green party candidate Peter Tam supports the call for Rail for the Valley connecting Chilliwack, Abbotsford and Surrey. That would allow Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows commuters to connect by catching buses across the Golden Ears Bridge.

Tam says there should be a national transportation policy, spelling out objectives. “We need to take a look at public transportation as a public subsidy – the same we subsidize building a road.”

The reason trains and buses are not coming into Maple Ridge is because nobody’s using them, which in turn makes the service more expensive.

Subsidizing transit can increase ridership and also increase green-related jobs, he added.

 

Making the grade

• According to a study by the Toronto Board of Trade, Vancouver gets a D for placing 13th out of 22 world cities when it comes to the percentage of the labour force (25 per cent) that doesn’t drive to work.

Hong Kong tops the category with 89 per cent of the labour force taking alternative transportation.

• Vancouver also places 13th, but this time earning a C, when ranking the average commuting time: 67 minutes. Barcelona comes in first in that category with the average time to get to work being only 48 minutes.

• Vancouver also loves its cars, ranking the fifth-highest in the number of cars (190) per kilometre of road. That earns it a C, but still places it above Hong Kong, Berlin and Paris, which all have more cars per kilometre. Paris is choking in autos with 251 cars per kilometre of road. Shanghai gets an A rating with only 58 cars per kilometre.

• When it comes to the average distance travelled on transit, Vancouver gets a D, with the average person travelling only 964 kilometres (18th out of 24 cities), compared to top-ranked Tokyo, where the average annual distance on transit was 5,847.

– Toronto Board of Trade, Scorecard on Prosperity 2011