Vibrant Communities, Productive Citizens: a Surrey Rapid Transit Vision

Surrey Rapid Transit Vision - Minimap

Background

(scroll down to read the vision!)

If you’ve read about me in any way, you’ll likely know about my issue with the Surrey at-grade rail (Light Rail Transit) proposal. It was the turnkey issue that became responsible for dragging me into a world of politics. As a stakeholder,  it motivated me to educate myself as best as I could about issues in the community, and is the reason why I pay attention.

My problem with Light Rail? As much as everyone seems to like the option – especially over a SkyTrain expansion – and as much as it DOES work well in many locations around the world, the reality of Light Rail in Surrey is that it won’t help us achieve ambitious goals (rather restricting us from getting to them ever); won’t move our people the most efficiently; and won’t give us the most benefits for the cost.

These aren’t wild claims; these are facts and stats that have been made clear in numerous studies, including TransLink’s Surrey Rapid Transit Study. So far, people across the city of Surrey – from stakeholders to big advocacy organizations like the Surrey Board of Trade – have disregarded these facts and stats. It really dismays me to see that over $5 million that was put into the Surrey Rapid Transit Study – which was made specifically to compare the rapid transit options from a technical perspective – is largely going to waste.

One of the most alarming things about the proposal for me is that one of the proposed corridors (104 Ave to Guildford Town Centre) will actually see transit worsen with Light Rail, especially during its construction. It’s been a concern not just as a long-time resident of the Guildford area (and a rider on 104th Ave transit routes), but as a generally astute Surrey issues follower for the sake of citizens in all areas, and our region.

With over 5 years of advocacy of Light Rail Transit from numerous city organizations and politicians, stakeholders like me now face a situation where city organizations that control our future unanimously support Light Rail and unanimously disregard its serious downsides. Light Rail for Surrey was recently approved in the Mayors’ Council’s regional transit vision, which is why I believe the time for action is more urgent ever. It’s a perfect time, actually, with the next municipal elections only months away and the attractive lure of political discussion in this city being just around the corner. I think there’s a real potential to turn this around, and I think it has to be done more than ever.

So today I present you with a new Surrey Rapid Transit Vision: a vision that promises more practicality at a lower cost, and with more than twice the transit improvement benefits for our citizens. And, I plead that you don’t ignore this.

It’s the convergence of my best research, put together in a way that residents, current politicians and candidates for the upcoming Surrey municipal elections will be able to understand. In the following months you will be seeing me circulating this presentation to associations in the city and working hard to make this issue clear in advance of the next municipal elections. You’ll see me contacting potential Mayor and Council candidates,  current politicians, the media and stakeholders about this issue. You’ll see me working at this because I believe this is a big issue and people NEED to hear about it, right now.

Without further ado:

Vibrant Communities, Productive Citizens: A Surrey Rapid Transit Vision

(Recommended: Tap the icon on the bottom right to view in full screen!)

How will anti-TransLink vote influence transit referendum?

Looking forward inside a Vancouver transit bus. Photo: CC-BY-NC-ND Flickr: Cyprien
Looking forward inside a Vancouver transit bus. Photo: CC-BY-NC-ND Flickr: Cyprien

Also featured on: Metro604

A comment on the recent Price Tags article on the upcoming November 2014 TransLink Referendum (TransLink Referendum: Can It win? What do we need to know?) strikes a chord on the instruments of an upcoming transit expansion funding referendum. Commenter “David” posted:

Sadly there will be an anti-TransLink vote, even by people who favour additional funding for transit. Some will choose a non-TransLink supported idea just to spite them while others will switch to the “no” side. Unfortunately TransLink has been the victim of bad propaganda for the last 20 years and a significant number of people believe it needs to be reformed or scrapped despite numerous audits showing that it’s actually doing a good job. The people in BC never let facts get in the way of ideology.

Sadly, he is correct.

Votes in the upcoming Metro Vancouver transit funding referendum will be filled with the votes of people who may want transit expansion, but don’t want TransLink. These people want a Metro Vancouver transit future where the only service expansions will come through finding of additional “efficiencies” in TransLink, or the scrapping of TransLink altogether in favour of a different agency. A referendum, thanks to its ability to define a direct result, is dangerous in that it can be easily seen as a tool for these people to “get their revenge” on TransLink.

Sometimes egregiously bad propaganda, such as the recent wash on TransLink for providing free coffee to employees (let’s face it, TransLink is being singled out wrongly – it’s probably not the only transit management agency that does this), has been all over the local media for the past several years. In many ways, it has already had its effect on TransLink; as in recent years TransLink has indeed been put through a lot of scrutiny, and then through audit after audit.

The ironic thing is that many of these audits found TransLink to be a well run company doing a good job. One audit on TransLink efficiency stated that TransLink’s funding formula is the “best in Canada”, because it has allowed it (TransLink) to maintain transit expansion during the recession whereas others across the country were cutting service; its progress report has noted that TransLink has an interest in pursuing efficiency and has has made significant progress in taking initiative. A later review of its governance system, while noting that TransLink’s system is unique in the world, found that it is still seen as “state of the art” internationally.

However, these audits were also successful in fulfilling their main purpose – to be audits. While they found that TransLink has not been doing badly, they also found that changes can be made, and in those changes there are those opportunities to make TransLink’s efficiency “better”.

Because of bad propaganda, there are a lot of people and groups in Metro Vancouver who hold TransLink to absurdly high expectations of efficiency; and, so long as there are absolutely any potential “inefficiencies” in TransLink, even if a “solution” to that inefficiency is a reduction in service or an unreasonable impact to management (as were some of the recommendations in these recent audits), there will be an anti-TransLink vote.

An overcrowded platform at VCC-Clark SkyTrain station. SkyTrain service cuts during all off-peak hours were among some of the "efficiency" recommendations in the recent TransLink audits.
SkyTrain service cuts during all off-peak hours were among some of the “efficiency” recommendations in the recent TransLink audits. Photo: CC-BY-NC-ND Flickr: Andrew Ferguson

Look around: the results of this bad propaganda are everywhere. An online news article that has to do with transit expansion in Metro Vancouver will often yield a number of comments made by folk who will oppose transit expansion just for the sake of TransLink being in charge.

Article after article, editorial after editorial, letter after letter, and decision after decision, bad propaganda has probably already dealt its damaging blow to the future of the Metro Vancouver transit system, and there might not be much that can be done about that.

With a referendum on transit funding, we just won’t know.

Pictures from TransLink of mockup Mark III Skytrain vehicle
On the top is a next-generation Mark III SkyTrain vehicle, a product we will see with the coming of the Evergreen Line and perhaps again if more SkyTrain expansions are approved in Metro Vancouver.

As I was looking at how referendums on funding (especially transit funding) have been done in other cities like in Los Angeles and Seattle, as pointed out by some others, it hit me that those referendums have always focused on just one-matter at a time.

In essence, what I’m saying is that when Los Angeles decided a sales tax on transit, only a sales tax was decided that day. A proposal to extend that sales tax by another few years (Measure R) was put to the test in a separate referendum (where it lost). The same has occured in Seattle, and the same in other American cities that have put transit funding decisions to referendums. There was not ever an instance where more than one option was decided at a time.

What the B.C. Liberals have proposed to do in Metro Van is not going to be simple like this at all.

With a single matter, it is not difficult to inform the voter on what that funding means for him/her as a taxpayer, and exactly what will be built out of that funding if it passes. Perhaps that is why it worked so well in Los Angeles and in Seattle.

In Metro Vancouver, we don’t know what the referendum question will look like. However, in this referendum, we may be required to decide between a multitude of options (at least, if anything former minister Mary Polak said before the elections holds true, save for the no status quo part – there will be a status quo option), which is completely different from how the same decisions were made in the numerous cities in the UNited States. With a multitude of options, not only does informing voters require far more effort (because voters will need to know what each option will mean), but it will also be impossible to make promises out of this referendum.

Because there will be no way to be certain how many of those options will pass and how many won’t (or if any will pass at all), there will be no way to know how many projects will be able to proceed; and – for however many that do – that still leaves the debate of which one will be built first/at all. So, that opens up the possibility that some parts of the region will be simply left out. But, we won’t know which – and I think that in particular will leave some of us very worried.

So, there’s another key problem I have with a referendum on transit funding. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to inform people which payment option will pay for what improvement. We just won’t know.

Younger people aren’t happy with BC election results

A student holds up a picket sign at the B.C. High School Student Walkout of March 2012 - Art Gallery, Vancouver
A student holds up a picket sign at the B.C. High School Student Walkout of March 2012 – Art Gallery, Vancouver; Photo – CC BY-NC-ND – Flickr – ttcopley

Last week, after the infamous Orange Crash of the 2013 BC Elections, I wrote a piece on my blog (Biggest issue B.C. will face under Liberals is a disconnect with young people) stating  how a split would grow between the young people of B.C. and everyone else as young people continue to be left at the back of the priority list for issue-solving, and how this could become B.C.’s single biggest future issue.

Just a few days ago, I read a letter to the editor by a Surrey elementary student from Berkshire Park. He commented on how young adults need to start voting and offers solutions that B.C. could use to improve the turnout of democracy. I did a piece about this [CLICK HERE], pointing it out to my readers, noting that it to me signified the beginning of what I had predicted in my previous article.

It turns out I overlooked another newsletter in that same edition of the Leader, which publishes today, which was submitted by a young writer and is about the BC 2013 election results. The letter, which was written by a Surrey high school student who is just one year younger than I am, conveys much of the same feelings I have about the state of British Columbia and what needs to be done.

The letter begins with this….

I’m not extremely pleased with the 2013 B.C. election results.

Continues with this….

The Liberals have been a disaster for the most vulnerable people in this society. I believe a majority of B.C. residents are middle-class families. After reviewing the list of the party’s highlights, I think they seem to support issues that are of no interest to average families. They focus on situations that do not apply to a majority of us.

And ends with this….

At least the NDP addressed a societal issue making a change, unlike the Liberals. As leader Adrian Dix stated after Tuesday night’s election results, “sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and in B.C. it often rains.”

I guess it’s only a matter of four more years.

The full letter? You can read it at the Surrey Leader website. I have posted the first few paragraphs below….

Liberal victory isn’t the best result

by Navi Dosajnh, 16, Surrey

I’m not extremely pleased with the 2013 B.C. election results.

Everyone has their own views, but as a teen who attends a high school with increasing class sizes, and having dealt with the teacher’s strike, the B.C. Liberals don’t seem like such a great choice.

I understand that Premier Christy Clark has done a lot for the province: increasing the minimum wage to $10.25; implementing a 10-point, $2-million anti-bullying strategy; establishing an Independent Investigations Office to investigate serious cases involving police officers; and many more things and I acknowledge that.

But if we think about other aspects that spark growing tension, the Liberals have not touched upon the many situations that are leading the province to a complete downfall.

The Liberals cut $16 million in student loan funds, with no warning, leaving students unable to attend classes and wreaking chaos on families who are already financially strapped…

[READ MORE on the Surrey Leader website]

Newsletter signifies the beginning of a split between young and old

Sign points out a voting place. Photo: CC-BY-NC-ND -  Flickr - BlueAndWhiteAmy
Sign points out a voting place. Photo: CC-BY-NC-ND – Flickr – BlueAndWhiteAmy

Last week, after the infamous Orange Crash of the 2013 BC Elections, I wrote a piece on my blog (Biggest issue B.C. will face under Liberals is a disconnect with young people) stating how young people would begin losing hope in democracy, how a split would grow between the young people of B.C. and everyone else as young people continue to be left at the back of the priority list for issue-solving, and how this could become B.C.’s single biggest future issue.

My prediction seems to be coming into fruitition, and it’s coming earlier than I expected. Earlier today, a very well-written newsletter in the Surrey Leader appeared on my reader feed. The letter was allegedly written by a student at Berkshire Park Elementary, a school near my house (about 15 minutes away by bike). It offers comments on the flawed state of democracy and voter apathy. He comments on how young adults need to start voting and offers solutions that B.C. could use to improve the turnout of democracy.

This is only the beginning of what will become a remarkable split between young and old in British Columbia.

The key thing that I think signifies it? The last lines of the letter that read “I wish I could vote, but I’m not old enough.”

Democracy flawed by voter apathy

by Jonathan Wang – Berkshire Park Elem.

There is a major flaw with our democratic system – not enough people vote in elections nowadays.

In this last election where the B.C. Liberals won, just over half of the people eligible to vote actually voted, and yet we still called it a Liberal majority government.

This doesn’t work, because a majority government should mean that it represents the opinion of the majority of people in B.C…..

[READ MORE on the Surrey Leader website]

Biggest issue B.C. will face under Liberals is a disconnect with young people.

It’s been more than one year now since that day when we stood there protesting Bill 22, outside and in the rain and snow, probably close to some 20000 strong students all belonging to a generation that researchers of this society have labelled with the letter “Y”.

We weren’t just a random group of high school kids who wanted to skip school just to take the opportunity to join a bunch of other people doing it. Granted, there were probably some of us who were out of school for that purpose, but in spite of that, there were a lot of us had real concerns about our education – and we showed it in rallies and protests that, for that one day, attracted attention across the province. We were everywhere. The average joe who kept up would have seen us in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Kelowna, Penticton, Squamish….. and even in a small town somewhere north of Prince George.

And then, after that, we had to go back to school.

The reality of being young and needy in British Columbia

It’s hard enough for a young person in BC to show their concerns about their society and their environment; the majority of us, under 18, don’t have a vote in any elections. However, facing school and pressures that take up our daily lives, we really don’t have the time to commit to involvement in protecting our own futures and prosperity. Less yet do we have time to be skipping school and making a big show of it like we did that one time on March 2nd, just to show people that we’re concerned about what’s going on. We don’t have time to launch mega-massive protests like the ones Montreal students did at about the same time over rising tuition fees.

Students protest Bill 22 in Victoria in March 2012
Students protest Bill 22 in Victoria in March 2012

So, what we don’t have an ability to do in this society is properly represent ourselves. We rely on the 85 important and older people who go to Victoria with the hope that they will make decisions that do accomodate us, and steer us towards the prosperity that other generations of past got so that they could become great and successful people, in much the same way we want to be. We have to rely on you, and we can’t rely on ourselves – and that, I believe, is becoming one of the most critical mistakes in modern-day politics in every democratically-run sovereignty.

In May 2012, a few months after the March student walkout and after months of job action, teachers across the province were forced to give up. They accepted a horrible legislation that was called Bill 22, a legislation that has brought to B.C. the worst student-educator ratio in Canada and the associated effects to students and to our society in the indirect ways.

Our say, in addition to their say, just simply wasn’t enough.

Young vs old in BC polls

Yesterday, when thousands of British Columbians took to the polls to get in their vote in the 2013 elections, elementary and high school students across the province participated in Student Vote: a parallel election program coinciding with the British Columbia provincial election. They elected a majority NDP government. But, when the actual elections came, they were then out-voted by the rest of the population.

When British Columbians in a surprise flip elected back the same government that brought us the horrid Bill 22, young people under 18 in British Columbia didn’t have a say in it at all.

We won’t have a say in facing another 4 years of the B.C. Liberal government that has brought us inferior education compared to other provinces in Canada (including the worst student-educator ratio in the country). We won’t have a say in the cutbacks in skills training programs that will affect us as we graduate from high school and look for these programs to get us the skills we will need to start benefiting from (and contributing to) the economy in the future. We won’t have a say in any of this.

On top of that, we also have to face the fact that well over 70% of people in this province simply didn’t think about us when they made their vote. That 70% being: the 52% of people who didn’t show up to the polls at all (only 48% of voters voted in the May 2013 provincial election, a record low), in addition to the voters around the province who brought back the party that has largely governed without our interests in mind for the past 12 years.

There is a growing disconnect between the young population of British Columbia and everyone else.

I think that, starting today and proceeding as more and more of the issues young people face in their society get worse and worse as little is done to effectively solve them, young people in this province are going to lose hope in our modern system of democracy. They’re going to lose hope in their ability to be accommodated in a society that really doesn’t care about young people, has given them a much more difficult situation than was faced years ago by the generations that are now voting their concerns out, and doesn’t have a way to allow them to properly represent themselves in modern politics. (see video above, titled “What Is Generation Squeeze?“)

They’re going to start favouring something much more convoluted and scary in nature: something else.

In my view, this will create a tendency in British Columbians’ generation Y and (as they grow) generation Z: a tendency for us to be generally dissatisfied, unhappy, rebellious, and perhaps violently rebellious in our futures, as a result of the inconveniences we faced as a result of an incompetent government surrounding us at our young age. It will have dire consequences on the stability, economy and strength of this entire province.

That, I believe, is going to become this province’s single biggest future issue.

That, or the fact that based on the elections results there are probably few – if any – educated people in British Columbia who will ever take my concerns about the growing disconnect between young people and their society seriously.

Broadway vs Surrey and what justifies rapid transit

Canada Line
Canada Line crosses the Fraser River. Photo credit: Flickr – Richard Eriksson
Comments like this are a nuisance.
comment by “jj” on Price Tags

Well said Voony. People across the region would benefit from a rapid transit line along Broadway. Contrast that to mainly people in Surrey benefiting a rapid transit line in Surrey. Who NEEDS rapid transit first? Well you tell me: Surrey with its half-empty buses or Broadway with its over-capacity buses? It’s quite obvious if you ask me.

Gordon Price, I almost always agree with your opinions, but not regarding the Broadway/Surrey rapid transit situation. You never address well-laid out arguments for rapid transit on Broadway.

Justifying rapid transit service based on how full or how empty the buses are is simply not a very wise way to look for that justification. I think it’s horrible, actually, that a lot of people are making the assumption at all. Many of these people don’t know everything. They think that Broadway busses are always full and Surrey buses are always half empty, and yet these are vague and often incorrect assumptions.

For example: In my experience, sometimes the 99 B-Line can in fact be full. But, there are numerous times when I have ridden the 99 when there’s more than enough room on the bus for the bus to work (i.e. off-peak). The same goes for Surrey. Many bus routes are half empty off-peak. Some of those buses are in fact full during the peak, and some can be full during the off-peak. The 320, 332/335 and 502 are great examples of overcrowded Surrey bus routes. The 321, 337, and 341 also get decent and crowded rider loads during peak periods, in my experience.

The truth about the justifications for rapid transit is that they come from several different factors – not just how well utilized is the current transit system.

For example: there’s the financial and feasability case (Rapid transit gives more and faster service than pre-rapid transit alternatives, and to try to provide the same kind of service without rapid transit would be exceedingly costly if not impossible).

Then, there’s the modal shift case (Rapid transit is more attractive for choice riders who could otherwise drive, meaning more revenue for a transit agency, more system-wide service expansion, and less cars on the road + associated benefits).

There’s the economic case (what benefits it creates for the region and the regional economy – and I would think that either rapid transit project could create region-wide economic benefits; neither would only create benefits specific to any region).

And then, there the land use case, a component of the aforementioned case (rapid transit raises land value and can drive urban development if the developer risk remains acceptable; that land use can create benefits for citizens in terms of transit accessibility and, ultimately, living affordability).

There’s more; but, the point is, it’s not just about existing transit usage and existing transit problems. And, to add to that, I’m really sick and tired of hearing from people who say that X is justified, X is not justified, etc. based solely on this perspective of how well transit is used in an area.

A 99 B-line bus
A 99 B-Line bus

Why I’m voting for the BC NDP this election (or, at least, I would)

If you know me (and aren’t one of my closer friends on Facebook), you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been quiet about my position for this coming B.C. provincial election. There are a lot of you out there who might be interested in where I may be going in life, and might – perhaps – start becoming concerned that I’m being brainwashed into supporting whoever I support in this election. After all, some of you may know that my mom, Narima Dela Cruz (a realtor and a top 25 Canadian immigrant) ran for the NDP candidacy nomination in Surrey-Tynehead. And, as her son, I didn’t really have much of a choice but to support her and believe in her unconditionally as they do in exchange for me.

But, you might also (or might not) know me for my largely non-partisan efforts so far – my numerous newsletters, the grassroots campaigns like Better Surrey Rapid Transit (skytrainforsurrey.org), or perhaps my new infographic on TransLink affordability, which was posted on reddit and reached out to hundreds of people in Metro Vancouver. These efforts, motivated by my own interests, have been going on long before my mom became involved with the NDP.

Well, today, I’m coming out. No, this isn’t a sexual orientation thing (for the record, I’m straight). This is about where my mind is going in this coming election. Or, would be, of course, if I could vote. My birthday is not until September, so I will be 4 months short of 18 when the big day happens. With 8 days left, I figure that now would be a good time to speak about what I think.

I have no shame in saying, with my hands down, that if I could vote in this election, I would be voting for the BC NDP.

Adrian Dix, leader of the BC NDP, speaking in Kamloops
Adrian Dix, leader of the BC NDP, speaking in Kamloops. Photo by BC NDP, CC-BY

I was reading a column recently on the Georgia Straight newspaper [CLICK HERE] that was written by a person who once voted for the opposing party (the BC Liberals) all the time, but stated that he would be voting for the NDP this time around because of Adrian Dix. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything, the writer did make this comment, which I think is particularly interesting:

“Dix has tried to do politics differently and has waged an honourable campaign. His bet is that the people prefer to be told the facts, hear more than talking points and platitudes, and want the straight goods, even if they sometimes may not like to hear it. As a voter, I like the idea that a political leader assumes that I am intelligent, and not a moron that falls for incendiary, superficial, and ultimately misleading sound bites.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why in this election, I have huge respect for the B.C. NDP.

I think a fully-detailed, multi-page, laid-out platform with facts and numbers like the one the NDP has prepared on its website can send a strong message to voters. It sends a message that this party won’t form a government that will make decisions based on assumptions.

Statistics like the ones the NDP are using, citing non-partisan sources and never making them up, turn me on in much the same way as electricity fills a light-bulb. Those of you who are aware of how I have been approaching an issue in my city with the Better Surrey Rapid Transit advocacy (skytrainforsurrey.org) for the past 2 years will know that I think in much the same way. I also believe in having a good base of facts, and believe that they matter in a person’s judgment in issues. I also believe in honesty and statistics in campaigning in the same way the NDP has approached BC voters, with huge popularity.

And, I will hate you if you lie, especially if it’s about an issue I am particularly passionate about. I’m definitely not a fan of the statistical inconsistency coming from the B.C. Liberals and Christy Clark.

Just a few days ago, I released a “Reality check” on my grassroots campaign Better Surrey Rapid Transit, grilling the Green Party and leader Jane Sterk for making a somewhat misleading claim about the land-use impacts of SkyTrain rapid transit (CLICK HERE TO VIEW THIS), pitting a claim that did not have a source against 5 studies that prove it wrong.

A sizable number of my friends are Green voters, and I found myself urging some of them not to take this personally. I guess that’s because if I could vote in the upcoming election, I wouldn’t be tempted to vote for the Green party, even if I had more involvement as an environmentalist than I do now. As you could probably guess, I’ve been turned off because of this.

The BC Greens and Jane Sterk say that SkyTrain encourages sprawl, but the studies that I referenced say exactly the opposite. This is a picture of Metrotown, one of the biggest examples of how SkyTrain has shaped urban growth in Metro Vancouver.
The BC Green Party and Jane Sterk say that SkyTrain encourages sprawl, but the studies that I referenced say exactly the opposite. This is a picture of Metrotown, one of the biggest examples of how SkyTrain has shaped urban growth in Metro Vancouver.

One of the things that goes through my mind when I think about the B.C. Green Party and this claim by Jane Sterk is that they don’t seem to have all of their facts and their platform in order. The claim that Jane made in the Vancouver Courier report was never a part of the B.C. Green platform, and that’s something that can cause disagreement within the party. What that tells me is that they don’t have it together. They don’t have the full collaboration and full preparation that a party needs to really woo voters and win elections. (I’m pro-environment, so if anyone from the Green Party is reading, this is input you can use for future elections!)

The B.C. Greens don’t have what the B.C. NDP has, to me. What the BC NDP has that ultimately gives them my support is that their party and their leader have demonstrated a great knowledge of what the issues are in B.C., and a proper plan on how to fix those issues that did not skimp in any regard. We don’t need to worry about how they will do after the election. Just judging by the amount of detail and attention put into this plan, it looks like the BC NDP are going to have it handled if they get a majority vote.

So, well, that’s it. This election, if I could vote, I would be voting for change for the better and the BC NDP. Now, you know why. I’m not trying to lecture anyone on who to vote for… but if I have inspired you, then my pleasure! That’s what I started blogging for.

Adrian Dix, leader of the BC NDP, speaking in the City of Surrey. Photo by BC NDP, CC-BY
Adrian Dix, leader of the BC NDP, speaking in the City of Surrey. Photo by BC NDP, CC-BY

REALITY CHECK: B.C. Liberal claims vs. the facts on The Millennium Line SkyTrain

2-car SkyTrain approaches Brentwood Station on the Millennium Line
2-car SkyTrain approaches Brentwood Station on the Millennium Line
Based on photo by sillygwalio on flickr – CC-BY

In a guest posting on the Vancity Buzz blog [CLICK HERE], B.C. Liberal spokesperson Simrath Grewal (Vice President of the Young Liberals) wrote that:

The Millennium Line commissioned by the NDP during the 1990s was delivered late, over budget and it only made stops in NDP held ridings.

And claimed that this was part of a line of a dismal record of transportation projects that was had with the B.C. NDP government of the 1990s.

In this election, the main opposition (the B.C. NDP) have often criticized the B.C. Liberals for inaccuracy, and it looks like they have a really good reason to. People can only be expected to believe what they’re told, and it seems they’re being told a lot of rhetoric. It’s showing in the above comment on the Millennium Line SkyTrain project.

Simrath Grewal is completely incorrect on claiming that the Millennium Line SkyTrain project was late and over budget. In fact, the team that oversaw the construction of the Millennium Line (Rapid Transit Project 2000, Ltd. or RTP2000) won a National Award for Engineering Achievement from Engineers Canada for completing the Millennium Line both on time and UNDER budget. Engineers Canada is the national organization of the 12 provincial and territorial associations that regulate the profession of engineering in Canada and license the country’s more than 250,000 members of the engineering profession. The award is viewable on the Engineers Canada website at [CLICK HERE]. Its message is pretty clear to me.

Engineers Canada award with link

The financial statements of RTP 2000 Ltd. [CLICK HERE for the latest] make it clear how much was spent on the Millennium Line: $1.1 billion, meaning that the line was well within budget. In terms of per-km cost, the Millennium Line was the least expensive SkyTrain project ever constructed, save for the SkyTrain section running from Scott Road to King George Station (see: Historical SkyTrain Costs, [CLICK HERE]). This is reflected in other claims on the project reference pages on websites of companies that helped work on the Millennium Line, such as the Cement Association of Canada [LINK HERE].

The other claim that interests me is the one that alleges that the Millennium Line was designed to cater only to NDP ridings, by only stopping in them.

This overlooks the fact that the Millennium Line was never fully completed. The current portion of the Millennium Line in service is a Phase I portion of the route. It was brought forward because it was the least expensive portion of a multi-phase project that would have integrated several kilometres of new SkyTrain with the existing SkyTrain system. Not a lot of people who then labelled the Millennium Line the “SkyTrain to nowhere” probably know that. The Millennium Line project came across a rather unfortunate turn of government: with the B.C. Liberals’ step up to power in 2001, the Phase II portion of the line (which was in planning & development) was cancelled.

The cancelled Phase II portion of the route would have extended the Millennium Line into Coquitlam (now moving forward as today’s Evergreen Line project) and westward into the Central Broadway district, building off of the inexpensive track infrastructure of the Phase I line and an expansion of the sole operations/maintenance facility in Burnaby. That would have made the entire Millennium Line a bargain, in the sense that with SkyTrain, better transit could be provided at a significant discount thanks to existing assets.

1998 SkyTrain plans for the Millennium Line
1998 SkyTrain plans for the Millennium Line

The cancellation of this had to do with a report released by a consultant named Alan Greer, which attempted to refute a revised study that lead to a change in decisions with the NDP government and the build-out of the current SkyTrain Millennium Line rather than an original at-grade LRT proposal, based on stakeholders’ wishes for more grade separation (for better transit). Greer used his report to claim that the new report endorsed by the NDP supporting SkyTrain was shady, but did so with an equally shady report.

In late 2012 I did a review of this report as part of my work with the SkyTrain for Surrey Initiative (now called Better Surrey Rapid Transit at skytrainforsurrey.org) and found several inaccuracies that were not reviewed at the time, because the report was kept confidential for two years. [READ MY FULL ANALYSIS – CLICK HERE]

From original PRESS RELEASE on “Debunking the Greer Report” [CLICK HERE to read]

In my analysis of the report, I found that Mr. Greer is significantly lacking in his knowledge of the SkyTrain system. For example: some of Mr. Greer’s assumptions completely exclude the ability of higher operating frequencies with driver-less systems compared to driver-manned systems such as at-grade Light Rail Transit. There are a lot of unsubstantiated claims, and there are also several places where the information in the document contradicts itself.

The “primary flaw” in the RTP’s new SkyTrain-favouring study that was outlined in Greer’s report was that the new cost estimates were only done for the part of the full project that was to go ahead (to allegedly “create the appearance of favourable costs for SkyTrain”), and that analysis for the remaining portions (Phase II) was neglected and put-off solely due to the expenses of building out those po rtions with the preferred SkyTrain technology. The new analysis by SkyTrain for Surrey points out that this contradicts the reasons (stated in the same document) that the RTP made the change: the neglect of an immediate and costly analysis for Phase II likely did not have to do with the high cost of SkyTrain, but with the high cost of a better LRT with more grade separations (as was requested and mandated by community stakeholders).

According to this report by CBC [LINK HERE], the B.C. Liberals during the 2001 election used Greer’s report to claim that the Millennium Line project was to be another “fast ferries” fiasco. This is completely untrue not only for the reasons I state in my counter-report (linked above), but also because the first phase of the Millennium Line was delivered under budget, meaning the tie-in second phase (which would have extended the Millennium Line to the big ridership centres) would have likely made both projects very successful if the B.C. Liberals had not cancelled it as they came into power after 2001.

Clearly, the B.C. Liberals will use rhetoric and forego reviewing the facts when criticizing transportation projects by other governments. It happened in 2001, and looks like it is happening again in 2013.

So, what do you think? Will you continue to believe in the Liberals’ lies?

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: TransLink referendum disregards young population

Photo credit: Flickr - Stephen Rees
Buses waiting to depart at Bridgeport Station. Photo credit: Flickr – Stephen Rees

The same text below has been sent as a newsletter to newspapers reporting on this issue.
First published by: Surrey Leader

I would like to express my outrage as to the fact that transit funding has been placed in the hand of several million voters, none of which are going to be under 18 because those people are regarded as underage and have no say in their provincial government.

Public transit needs to be treated as a first class transportation system, not only because it’s the most sustainable and efficient way of moving people, but because it is relied on by many groups of people (particularly young people and students) who will be hurt by the lack thereof.

By turning to a decision option that excludes the voices of the young population and creates the risk that those who do not care about young people will be favoured, the B.C. Liberals are continuing their consistent disrespect of the young population.

Remember the liberals’ Bill 22? Because of their incompetence, B.C. now has the worst student-to-teacher ratio in Canada. The situation being faced by young people in B.C. today is already very tough, and a denial of their voice in defining their transportation future will only make it worse.

Investing in transit is crucial to giving young people mobility choices that they need to pursue the opportunities and connections that will allow them to become productive members of society. Prioritizing young people is important, because they can become the innovators that this world will need to solve global issues.

I will be voting for another party this season. Well, I would if I could, but I cannot vote. Unfortunately, I’m under 18.

Daryl Dela Cruz, Surrey

Surrey Leader – Referendum on new TransLink taxes has fans, foes

The BC Liberals’ surprise pledge of a referendum in November 2014 on any new taxes or tolls for TransLink is getting mixed reaction from transportation watchers.

Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman said the election promise unveiled Monday would give local voters the power to block any new revenue tool for transit expansion they decide is unjustified.

“That will really change the tenor of the discussion around TransLink,” Bateman said.

“From my point of view, that’s great. Direct democracy is always the best democracy.”

Metro Vancouver mayors have asked the province for new funding sources – a vehicle levy, a share of carbon tax, a small regional sales tax or some form of road pricing – to give TransLink the money for a massive transit expansion that would include rapid transit through Surrey to Langley and west on Vancouver’s Broadway corridor to UBC.

But some Metro Vancouver mayors are critical of the promised referendum, saying it threatens to dumb down the important debate over the future expansion of transit and put the long-term future of the region at risk.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts warned it could divide the region, with voters in cities that already have SkyTrain lines refusing to vote for the higher taxes needed to build new lines in the remaining underserved parts of the region.

“There are going to be people who don’t want to have any expansion in the region whatsoever and that leaves the communities that are growing that have had no investment in rapid transit at a disadvantage,” Watts said.

“Surrey has paid for significant amounts of infrastructure north of the Fraser,” she said. “Now that we’re looking to expand south of the Fraser, where 70 per cent of the region’s growth is coming, we just really need to stop playing politics and get the job done.”

Watts said the debate over funding for TransLink has dragged on for years and waiting until November 2014 would keep the region at a standstill until then.

“Not to be able to do anything for another two years for us in Surrey is simply unacceptable,” said Watts, who questioned why there isn’t a referendum on Liberal plans for changes to income tax levels or the sale of Crown land.

[READ MORE ON THE LEADER – CLICK HERE]