TransLink supports West Coast Express expansion

The contract with CP Rail for using the mainline from Mission to Vancouver and operating the trains expires in 2015

TransLink’s top brass supports expansion of West Coast Express service – some day.

“It’s needed,” CEO Ian Jarvis said Wednesday at a chamber of commerce luncheon in Maple Ridge.

If energy costs double or triple, people won’t be able to afford to commute and they’ll be wondering why the service wasn’t provided earlier, he said.

Even if the ridership isn’t at ideal levels, the service could still be expanded beyond the current five rush-hour trains to assure future capacity, added TransLink’s board chair Nancy Olewiler.

TransLink could be criticized for running a service that doesn’t have enough ridership, “but if we don’t get it in now, and we never get it in, we’ll never have the opportunity to have that efficient service.”

“We’ll be relegated to serving people by other means.

“If we don’t build it now, we may never be able to.”

The contract with CP Rail for using the mainline from Mission to Vancouver and operating the trains expires in 2015, so TransLink has started a strategic study of the 16-year-old commuter rail service, including the possible effects on ridership of the Evergreen Line SkyTrain, if that’s built in Coquitlam.

But he wouldn’t say how much money has been allocated for that study.

Jarvis said negotiating with CP Rail is a “delicate process,” but it will be easier with new federal legislation that requires commuter rail to be treated more fairly when allocating track time.

TransLink is on a consulting tour as it seeks approval for its “Moving Forward” supplemental spending plan that will pay for its share of the $1.2-billion Evergreen Line, upgrading of five SkyTrain stations and increasing bus service in Surrey, Richmond, North Vancouver, White Rock and Langley. No improvements are listed for Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.

A two-cent-a-litre hike in the gasoline tax next April has tentative approval, while other revenue sources, such as a vehicle levy or property taxes, remain undecided.

Jarvis also said smaller tolls could be levied on the Lions Gate, Ironworkers Memorial bridges and Sea to Sky Highway. “Those are things in terms of road pricing that we’re examining.”

While no decisions have been made tolls on bridges, the topic has greater public acceptance, Olewiler added later.

“The good news is, it’s on the table for discussion. The attitude has changed.”

Meanwhile, the Evergreen Line is awaiting resolution of the funding formula that TransLink will use to pay for its $400-million share of the project. If the mayor’s council approves that, then the provincial government can issue a request for proposals for bids on the project.

Maple Ridge Coun. Cheryl Ashlie asked if washrooms were part of the upgrading of SkyTrain stations.

That’s an issue “we cannot ignore,” and they’re being considered in the station upgrades, but costs for that have to be balanced with the need to spend money on transit services.

He told the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Chamber of Commerce crowd that despite steady growth in Metro Vancouver in the past 10 years, commuting times have grown only slightly, which means the service is coping.

Olewiler noted TransLink use is up by six per cent already this year, compared to 2010, which was “off the charts” because of the Winter Olympics. She said the public is opting for transit as a way to reduce personal budgets.

One of TransLink’s goals is to have half of all commuting trips be by other than by automobile by 2040.

It points out the Expo and Millennium SkyTrain lines are the most efficient and low-cost light rail operations in North America.

However, TransLink infrastructure is also aging. The Expo Line is 25 years old, Jarvis pointed out.

Transit users pay about 52 per cent of transit operating costs, he added.